February 16, 2024
It occurred to me recently that my request for “origin stories” may not have been inclusive enough. As an engineer, I tend to focus on the technical side of our business. Many of the greatest co-workers I have had never once worried about the difference between normal diametral pitch and module. They were quite happy to leave the design side to others while they attended to important duties elsewhere in the organization. Just as you cannot hope to have a successful baseball team with only pitchers, a gear shop needs a variety of skilled “position players” if it is to be more than just an academic exercise. We have “lost” some outstanding gear companies over the years due to problems that had nothing to do with the design of their products. Take something like cost estimating; I know most designers hate to get involved with it but without an accurate estimate you cannot stay in business long. I was fortunate to learn from a wonderful old accounting clerk who, despite living in a multiple ashtray could of cigarette smoke, had developed methods of predicting material, set-up, cycle, and heat treat costs from even the sketchiest of preliminary layouts. His ability to find similar projects in the company files was legendary. He was our secret weapon when there just was not sufficient time to develop a “clean sheet of paper” answer to an inquiry. Out in the shop itself, many a project was saved by the saw operator knowing just where a “drop end” could be found of the correct alloy and dimensions to replace a broken or out of tolerance part. In several stops on my journey, people in the purchasing department were often the hero [or heroine] of the hour by having just the right contact for that piece of “unobtainium” we needed. It would be great to hear from some of our non-technical gear guys and gear gals on how they got started in this trade. I am guessing they have a few interesting tales of dealing with those wacky engineering types.