A few years ago I presented a paper on reverse engineering at the AGMA Fall Technical Meeting. I heard through the grapevine that some folks were offended that “piracy” should be celebrated in such a prestigious forum. Reverse engineering is, and always has been, an important part of design engineering. In my opinion, to call it “piracy” is an insult to the great men and women who built the foundation of our trade.
While there are occasional instances where intellectual property rights have been violated, the majority of reverse engineering is done to keep old machines and process lines running. There is a huge amount of equipment for which parts and technical support simply does not exist in a timely manner. A sheet metal processing plant is not going to stop operating because an input shaft broke and the original equipment manufacturer wants 12 weeks to make a new one.
Another important aspect of reverse engineering is determining the “state of the art.” We are fortunate enough to live in a Golden Age of gear design. We have the machinery capable of routinely making parts which were once available only to front-line military equipment. Our computer capabilities are better than those that took us to the moon. Raw material quality and heat treat processing are better than ever. But if we don’t design our machines to fully utilize those capabilities we put our jobs, our companies, and our customers at risk.
When you consider the investments made to produce the material and equipment available, you have to be embarrassed when you make a crude or inelegant part. Every pound of material deserves to be made into a work of art; it is our job as designers and engineers to strive toward that goal. The first step, in my opinion, is to understand what is currently being done in your product area.
A side benefit to this situation is the pressure to make sure your own work will withstand study by your peers. There are no “gear cops” who will raid your plant for an aggressive interpretation of the rating formula, but your competitors will be happy to point it out to your customers. The American Gear Manufacturers Association was founded to rein in “outlaw” gear makers whose rating claims were putting the whole trade in a bad light. This “trust but verify” atmosphere has served our industry well because everyone benefits.