October 5, 2023
[starbox] In my last posting I wrote about some of the projects I have been involved with to squeeze a bigger part in an existing machine. Most of the time things worked out great, but once in a while we still outsmarted ourselves. We learned, for example, to verify and record the actual openings in our heat treat furnaces after learning that just because a part fit when cold did not mean it would come out when hot. A 72 inch gear is really a 72.44 inch gear at 1,050° F! The 72.25 inch opening was way too small when we needed it; a slow cool later, we were able to retrieve the part and re-heat it in a larger furnace for quenching. So there was no serious damage to anything — except our egos. High capital costs and tight budgets are great incentives for rebuilding, modifying, and upgrading your existing equipment. Gear Technology readers have seen advertisements from firms that routinely add computer controls to veteran gear hobbers, lathes, and milling machines. With a bit of outside help you might be surprised at what your maintenance mechanics can accomplish. We bootstrapped ourselves into a wonderful suite of freshly rebuilt carburizing furnaces at less than the cost of one completely new unit. The crew got plenty dirty and we had a false start or two, but the end results transformed the company. And that transformation was not limited to the physical plant. I’ve heard it said that “experience comes from surviving moments of bad judgment.” Our newly “experienced” furnace rebuilding crew was not afraid of taking on bigger challenges as they came along — challenges that would previously have required expensive outside help. Sometimes the first step to thinking outside the box is to be brave enough to take the box itself apart and re-imagine how it should go back together.