Cadillac once proclaimed itself the “Standard of the World” and did its level best to back that claim up with high levels of product quality and cutting-edge design. Other companies have occupied that peak of reputation in the automotive field, but we still talk about something being the “Cadillac” of this or the “Cadillac” of that. In recent years there has been less emphasis on excellence and more effort at consistency. I can’t argue that the change hasn’t paid off as even the cheapest car built today is safer and lasts longer than the best marques did in the past.
On another level, however, I wonder if we are missing something by aiming for consistency as opposed to excellence. While there is nothing wrong with standardizing methods and insuring that “quality” is always a “given” in the design and manufacture of our products, I miss the days when companies were determined to offer gears and gearboxes that were superior to the competitions’.
Never before have the raw materials and equipment available to the “average” gear maker been better. Purchased components such as bearings and seals are of better quality than those used to reach the moon. Our design and analysis capabilities are vastly superior to those available even ten years ago.
Yet our allowable stresses are based upon values negotiated thirty years ago from tests performed sixty and seventy years ago. Some research continues in niche areas and on influence factors but we lack the financial support that came from privately held gear companies. There is apparently “no return” on basic gear research and little interest in trying to develop better rather than cheaper products.
I don’t see conditions changing in the foreseeable future. Thankfully there are still a few firms that are willing to go the extra mile to build the products that others can be measured against. Somehow, the really tough projects will still find their way to those firms.