February 16, 2024
Going back to Stuart Curtis’ solo effort on designing a product line for his family firm: he did a masterful job because they are still being made and sold today. Very few products enjoy such a long production cycle. The consumer market thrives on the “newest” craze, although we no longer have the annual spectacle of car showroom windows being covered with paper until the official unveiling date of the longer, lower, more powerful models. Oil City’s downtown is full of collector cars today, the final activity of Oil Heritage Festival. It always surprises people that many revered “classics” were not huge sales successes when new. In 1957, for example, Ford outsold Chevy for the first time in several years. The beloved 2 seat Thunderbird was replaced by a larger 4 seater that the buyers loved back then but few lust after today. Just as with automobiles, changes in rules and regulations result in sometimes abrupt shifts in gearbox design. If you look at the most popular parallel shaft speed reducers of the 1950s and 1960s, they seem like Model A Fords compared to their successors. You could simply apply today’s materials and manufacturing techniques to those old designs but that would not be enough to obtain world class performance again. An old muscle car fitted with disk brakes, big wheels, and fuel injection is certainly more pleasant to drive, but it is never going to match a modern car in safety, handling, and fuel economy. Will some of today’s “new” gearboxes still be in production 40 years from now? Maybe, provided the designers did a good at responding to issues that come up in the field. We seem to have the “gear” part of the gearbox under control. If only all the keys, bearings, and retaining rings would behave as predictably.