February 16, 2024
A wise man once pointed out that everyone drives a used car. We hear many reports on self-driving cars, electric cars, hybrid cars, and other planet-saving technology, yet the average age of registered vehicles is over eleven years. Some buyers are opting for 84-month car loans so the fleet average is not likely to drop any time soon. It would be interesting to know what that “fleet average” is for gear machinery in the United States. In my travels I see more 50-year-old hobbers and 20-year-old grinders than anything else. For shaping machines and bevels the average age might be even older than that. I am showing my age by admitting my surprise that what were, in my mind, “new-generation” grinding machines entering the used equipment market. The latest grinders have capabilities we only dreamed of twenty years ago, so I can understand why those with the capital equipment budget would opt for them. But most firms are just not in a position to buy the latest and greatest machines very often. Recently I was talking about the challenges of grinding gears on non-computer-controlled machines. Productivity was always subject to operator skill and the geometry modifications needed. The good news is that most gears do not need that tapered offset crown that designers can confidently apply to critical components, knowing that they will be ground on the latest-model machine. The previous-generation grinders that are moving into the used equipment market could do most of these acrobatics — if the operator is skilled and patient. Skill and patience are what ultimately determines how good a shop is. Just buying new equipment won’t cure bad planning or poor tooling. Don’t despair if the cutting-edge toys are not on your loading dock; work on improving the things within your control. Re-align those veteran machines. Restore and repair your fixtures. Re-train your operators. You may never be able to make a part in the same cycle time as the new machines, but you will be able to meet drawing requirements and offer competitive prices.