October 12, 2022
The last blog posting cautioned against over reliance on reference books for design guidance. A perfectly logical follow-up to that caution is “Where do I go for a starting point on my new market-changing gizmo?” Among the first things we learn in consulting school is to turn the client’s questions right back at them. In this case, I would point at your study of “the market” and what data makes you think it needs or wants changing. Are there reports of massive warranty issues? Have you received inquiries for gizmos “just like brand X” but bigger, smaller, more efficient, quieter, lighter, or with any other distinguishable change? If the answer really is that “management” just wants a piece of that business, your next step is still the same: study your competition. One of the side effects of great consensus technical standards is the removal of hyperbola from the design process. This is a good thing; AGMA was founded, in part, to shut down the unsupported claims that Brand Y’s gears could transmit more power than Brand Z’s. Once the terminology, allowable stresses, and formulas are agreed on, any mathematician can evaluate the capacity of a set of gears or a gearbox. When the standards and gear making process remain the same for a long period of time, all the products start to look the same. In some market segments, such as small worm gear reducers, they become so similar that interchangeability is almost a given. This effect is not confined to our trade alone. Check the offerings at the average car dealer; only a dedicated enthusiast can tell the vehicles apart if you cover the maker’s logos. Entering a crowded marketplace may actually be easier than taking on one or two entrenched competitors. First off, more brands indicate a willingness on the part of buyers to consider alternatives. Secondly, more brands mean more data and more opportunity to develop a truly “best-in-class” product. Thanks to the Internet, many of your worldwide competitors put their catalogs online for free download; some even provide 3-D models for you to study. There is no shortcut to understanding the task ahead of you.