GT Has Its Eye on the Future of Gear Manufacturing
Matthew Jaster, Senior Editor
The 2016 November/December issue of Gear Technology is going places. More specifically, it’s taking readers into the future. Senior Editor Jack McGuinn will be examining the role of UI Lab’s Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) here in Chicago and I spent time with machine tool builders and gear manufacturers discussing their thoughts on the gear shop of tomorrow.
It’s not difficult to imagine the day when robotics, automation and digital analytics will rule the gear shop. We’re seeing smart manufacturing increase its role in every aspect of industry from the way machine tools communicate today to the way engineers may soon incorporate virtual or augmented reality systems into their daily operations.
This conversation came up during IMTS week when I had an opportunity to sit with David Goodfellow, president and CEO at Star SU and Mark Parillo, director of marketing at Star SU to talk about the future of gear manufacturing and the future of industrial trade shows like IMTS. The following Q&A is supplemental material for the article that will appear in the November/December issue:
GT: What technologies stood out during IMTS 2016 that will eventually make their way into our industry?
Goodfellow: I think the front of the North Building at IMTS says it all. We can almost 3D-print everything today. You walk around those booths and see a diverse range of 3D-printed parts, but these parts still have flaws in them. Over time, they will reduce and eliminate these flaws. However, when you’re talking about putting 3D-printed components into an aircraft engine, you have to start asking many, many questions. These parts are going to have to be vetted and proven reliable before they’re utilized in aerospace applications. It’s going to be interesting to see where additive manufacturing takes us in the future.
GT: How have industrial trade show like IMTS evolved through the years?
Parillo: Eight to 10 years ago, people were talking about virtual reality trade shows due to the high costs of bringing machines to these events. There was some conversation on saving money and cutting corners in regards to booth size, employees needed, etc. Some companies spend 4-5 million per trade show. But this didn’t take off like people expected. Attendees still want to see the steel on the floor. They want to hear directly from the engineer on how it works, what it can and can’t do, and how the machine tool might fit their production needs. I think it’s the digital communication tools that are evolving.
GT: How so?
Parillo: How are you going to increase traffic to your booth? Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, these are great resources in real-time to discuss machine demonstrations, technical presentations, etc. We’re going to use these more moving forward. YouTube is another great resource. While the trade show is going to remain relatively the same, the way we interact with our customers is always changing.
Goodfellow: We printed 3,000 brochures for IMTS 2016 that were obsolete before the show ended. Nobody wants to carry paper anymore. They have smartphones and tablets and wristwatches where they can attain the information they need. It’s a new world where everyone has access to everything. We’re learning to adapt to this.
GT: Let’s discuss how the gear shop is going to change in the future. What areas in gear manufacturing will see rapid improvements?
Goodfellow: I think gear inspection and metrology is one area that is going to improve significantly. The ability to analyze and inspect gears is so time consuming today; analysis time is too great. Optical and laser measurement tools are going to change significantly and measurements will become faster and more efficient. I also think the gear shop of the future will eliminate coolants and oils altogether. We’ll find ways to be more environmentally-friendly and this, in-turn, will increase productivity and eliminate waste.
GT: What role will robotics and automation play in your typical gear shop?
Goodfellow: This is where things can get complicated. Let’s automate as much as we can, let’s eliminate several human tasks on the shop floor. Problem is that the more you complicate the shop floor the more you’re going to need a different type of employee at your disposal. There’s going to be different human needs required for manufacturing in the future.
Our educational institutions are going to have to improve the level of learning and the training necessary to better prepare our engineers. You walk around IMTS and see all the technology in 2016. Just imagine what this might be like 20 or 30 years from now? Education and industry are going to need to come together to determine what skills and training will be necessary for future engineers to succeed.
GT: What will relatively stay the same in gear manufacturing in the future?
Goodfellow: We may automate our shop floors, but you can’t dehumanize the process of working with suppliers, vendors or your sales and support staff. If every machine was built and sold the same, what difference does it make? You buy machine tools because the sales team promises they will take care of you. This isn’t going to change anytime soon. I’m a Trekkie, and I believe some of the tools we have at our disposal today are incredible, but you can’t leave everything up to a computer. You still want to have some influence on the buyer’s decision.
GT: Could this be a problem moving forward?
Goodfellow: Today, we have maps in our smartphones. We used to keep physical maps in our cars and change in our pockets. If we got lost roaming around a city, you could jump out and use a payphone. What happens when your smartphone battery dies today? It’s important to think about how technology affects us. What happens when these new, whiz-bang devices fail us? What do you do now?