July 14, 2022
[starbox] On Saturday I began my 44th year in the gear industry. I remember way too many details of my first day as a drafting apprentice at the Falk Corporation for it to have been that long ago, but the calendar doesn’t lie. After expressing shock that I had no relatives working there, my new co-workers began the long, hard task of teaching me enough so I wouldn’t be “a hazard to navigation.” At least one old hand advised having a good back up plan since hydraulics were going to take over everything. There have certainly been many changes in our trade since 1971 but anyone who ever watched an episode of Junkyard Wars could tell you, the hydraulic revolution never happened. In my opinion, the big changes that reshaped our industry:
- Computer controlled machine tools. When I took my first shop tour at Falk it was wall- to-wall turret lathes in three buildings. Ten years later they were gone.
- Personal computers. In 1971 we punched our own cards for the mainframe computer. At least once a week a box of cards got dropped on the way to the computer room. I could have built a house with my boxes of cards. Ten years later that mainframe was in a little box on every desk.
- Computer Aided Drafting. I was a late adopter of CAD, as you might expect given my apprenticeship. By the mid 1980s, a single CAD station could out perform five or six draftsmen.
- Ground gearing. Falk held on to through hardened gearing longer than most companies, but by 1990 most of the industry had transitioned to carburized and hardened gears with ground flanks.
- Coated hobs and cutters. It took a while for everyone to believe the test results, but within a few years the benefits of extended tool life changed the economics of the business.
- CNC Form Grinders. In 1971 there were two dominant gear grinding technologies: MAAGs for bigger, high-precision parts and Reishauers for smaller, high-volume parts. On MAAGs you talked “days per gear” and on Reishauers it was “minutes per gear” after a day of wheel prep. The advent of CNC form grinding reduced the cost of gear grinding and made the advanced micro-geometry required for high performance possible.
- The Internet. Until the Internet came into our lives, you needed good library skills to research technical topics. Inquiries and purchase orders came in via the post office and might take days just to reach the appropriate desk. Responses went by “snail mail” too. Long distance phone calls were reserved for emergencies. For a short period of time, communication shifted to fax machines, but once the “dot com” boom started, we were on that slippery slope to instant communication.
- Cell phones. When I started traveling with sales people, the first thing that I noticed was how much of a hassle it was for them to communicate by phone. Most carried bags of “telephone change” and knew where every pay phone was on their turf. Being able to carry a cell phone, even at the outrageous rates of the early days, revolutionized the sales game.