July 14, 2022
My last posting covered the beginning stages of the path to gear expertise. Your “Jon Snow” days of knowing nothing won’t last long. Very quickly you will be watching the action around you and learning enough to ask good questions. Before long you will develop a confidence with the “gear stuff” in your regular work assignments. Then you will start wondering why things are done the way they are. Level 4 — Processor. No, you won’t be serving legal papers on miscreants! Gears do not make themselves and someone has to plan the process in great detail. If you thought you had questions before, just wait until you are expected to provide the answers to how long something will take, how many pieces can be cut between tool changes, and all the other queries that percolate up from the shop floor. Operators need answers and the processors have to provide them. At this stage you spend lots of time looking through reference books and bugging the “old hands” for reasons things are done the way they are. Level 5 — Investigator. When the answers are elusive or the data does not make sense, you will have to come up with ways to determine what will “work” with your parts, your people, and your equipment. Looking through books and brainstorming with your co-workers will only take you so far. Many investigators find themselves looking outside their organization for help. The Gear Technology online archives are a great place to start — all content is searchable by key words — as are our advertisers. Someone in the greater gear community has probably run into the same situation now confronting you. Level 6 — Designer. There comes a time when you truly understand your “problem” but just can’t find an off-the-rack solution. This occurs on both the manufacturing and the product side of the business. You may start as a “line extender,” making a size bigger or smaller than an existing product or piece of tooling — but eventually you will need to make something completely different. Nothing is quite as challenging as a blank sheet of paper. Talk about stepping out of your comfort zone! New machines, new processes, new gear types, or new applications will send you back to the reference material and require you to test the assumptions you have been working under. Expect to lose some sleep; expect to defend you decisions. The design challenge will have a wonderful side effect, i.e. — confidence that you really understand your trade.