October 12, 2022
I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately, and wonder if perhaps we take the convenience of air travel for granted. Who would have expected an hour to get through security on a Tuesday afternoon? Or a plane filled with grumpy folks detoured through O’Hare because of flight cancellations in Amsterdam? The “butterfly effect” is all too real when a pilot breaking his leg in The Netherlands results in hundreds of passengers being delayed more than a day. It is hard to believe major airlines don’t have a spare captain or two on standby in major airports, rather than risk the anger of customers. Our ancestors took a month, or at least a couple of weeks, to get from Europe to the United States by ship. Until the 20th century those ships were hardly fit for human transport — much less luxury travel. Now, sitting for five hours elbow-to-elbow in an air conditioned cabin is tough to take. My business allowed for a short visit to Seattle’s Museum of Flight. From a replica Wright Flyer to the Supersonic Transport, the place has restored aircraft to demonstrate how we got so interconnected. What amazing progress to go from the wood-and-fabric home-built of 1903, to the carbon-fiber beauties being outfitted nearby! While observing a state-of-the-art gear grinder in operation, I had a chance to recount previous grinding technology with the apprentice assigned to the job. (Yes, there are still apprentices.) While all the grinding methods currently in use were employed going back to the Wright Brothers’ time, only in the past 25 years have ground gears become “mainstream.” Twenty five years ago we were “stuck” with grinders that might take a week to cut one gear, or an entire shift just to prepare a grinding wheel. On many machines it was incredibly complex to grind a crowned lead or to modify a tooth flank. Like the grumpy air traveler, we gear designers are spoiled by the high technology at our disposal and seldom appreciate just how good we have it.