For years, Reliance Gear Corp. has manufactured gears for the aerospace industry. Located in Elmhurst, IL, Reliance has served as a Tier 2 or Tier 3 supplier. (Tier 1 suppliers work directly with the aerospace primes, the Boeings and Embraers of the world.) Like many gear shops, Reliance is certified under quality management standard ISO 9001. And its aerospace customers were satisfied with that certification. Until
two years ago.
The oil-off (also known as loss-of-lubrication or oil-out) performance evaluation of gears is of significant interest to the Department of Defense and various rotorcraft manufacturers, so that the aircraft can safely land in an accidental loss-of-lubricant situation. However, unlike typical gear failure modes such as pitting or bending fatigue where early detection is possible, gear failure in an oil-off situation is very rapid and likely catastrophic. Failures rapidly result in the loss of torque transmission and the inability to control the aircraft.
Oil-out conditions, or conditions
in which an aircraft is
operating without any oil in its
gearbox or transmission, are
devastating for an aircraft's
hardware. Even the sturdiest gears
usually can't last 30 minutes under such
conditions before they catastrophically
fail, and the whole system usually follows shortly after. That doesn't leave pilots with a whole lot of time to find a suitable location to land in the case of an oil-out emergency.
Aerospace manufacturing has seen quite a turnaround in the past few years. The world's manufacturers of airplanes, helicopters, missiles, space vehicles and satellites are all extremely busy right now--and that's keeping quite a few gear manufacturers busy as well.