While there have been big changes on the design side of the gear trade, they are overshadowed by the improvements in the manufacturing processes. Fifty years ago, computer-controlled machines were extremely rare in metal working shops. Hundreds of men -it was very rare to see a woman in the shop- labored over single function machines and hundreds more were tasked with moving the parts from operation to operation.
We constantly struggled with tolerance; entire departments were devoted to repairing and reworking bits that failed inspection. Just removing burrs required hours and hours of unappreciated skill.
One overarching memory is of the dirt and grime. My first day in the shop, a wise old hand schooled me on getting dirty. He advised getting grimy on Monday morning and just embracing the mess; if the boss saw you in a clean shirt and pants after coffee break on Monday, he would assume you were goofing off.
Today’s well-lit and well-maintained facilities would surprise my old mentor much more than the high-tech machinery. Of course, the newer machines require those better working conditions. And a climate-controlled shop is enjoyed by everyone.
I miss being on the shop floor; seeing metal being formed into precision parts is fascinating. Our society needs to regain an appreciation for the feeling of satisfaction one gets from making things.
Gear Technology publishes many scholarly articles on the leading edge of our trade but few of them include photos of the actual workplaces where the parts are made. There has always been a bit of secrecy concerning manufacturing techniques; some of that secrecy is justified. Keeping the process behind closed doors, however, hurts the recruitment of young people who are needed to staff it in the future.
Children know what the inside of a school looks like from personal experience. They see retail and food service and hospitality in real life. Television and movies show them court rooms, offices, and hospitals. They won’t see beyond the loading dock unless we invite them on tours or publish wider angle photos. And those photos should not be just a staged shot of an unusually big part.