Manufacturing for the Future, Without Limits

Aug 8, 2012

Sherri Mabry, Managing Editor, Gear Solutions

Guest Columnist:
Sherri Mabry, Managing Editor, Gear Solutions

I attended my first IMTS event many years ago as editor for a large industry trade publication. I was in awe of the machinery and the technical knowledge of the experts available to answer questions and show demonstrations of their equipment. At that time, we were on the downside of an economic bubble and attendees and manufacturers alike were concerned about the future of manufacturing in the U.S. and around the world. Who would lead manufacturing out of the economic decline and what technology might we incorporate to ensure longevity? Those were the questions of the day a couple decades ago. Those questions have resurfaced and are on our minds today.

At a recent event, two groups of gear specialists discussed whether gears still have a future with all the anticipated changes with electro-mobility.

A vice president with a major manufacturer told me that gear manufacturing hasn’t changed considerably since early Egyptian machinists learned to grind complex structures. Materials grinding is materials grinding, but gears have evolved because of improved manufacturing processes. Advancements in manufacturing technology have consistently lead to increased production capacity. Since 1980 manufacturing is improving at a rate of 3.2 percent because of technology, according to industry data. In other words, we are doubling manufacturing capacity every 22 years.

With the introduction of computing hardware and software, this trend is expected to continue or improve in the coming years.

If we incorporate historical data and theories toward forecasting and trending, we can relate manufacturing and its growth to the introduction of computers. Moore’s Law, although not an actual law, is an observation that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. Since the capabilities of manufacturing are now closely tied in many ways with computers and software such as processing speed, which is improving at exponential rates, we can believe that manufacturing should continue to track well until the next anticipated technology boom/bust between 2015 or 2020, even though some predict growth may begin to slow at the end of 2013 when we will see growth every 3 years, rather than 2.

In gear manufacturing, what has changed is the size of the gears we attempt to manufacture, and with larger sizes come a variety of challenges in specifications, heat-treating and finishing. With common gear uses and the potential applications where gears may be used in new ways, gear manufacturing now requires more flexibility and efficiency along with the use of technology such as computer-driven machines that bring metals to exact standards and tolerances.

OEMs see a bright future for gears if we are willing to incorporate new value propositions and business models. Integrating surface hardening and more complex machining components lead manufacturers to rely more on computers to set parameters and produce strong gears as technology evolves. Gears now and in the future will continue to play a decisive role, not only in power transmission for vehicles, but also in generating energy in the first place.

Using integrated machines to produce high quality gears with considerably less cutting force is possible with gear milling software. Software allows for visualizing machining, while helping users understand complex problems and how to solve those with available tools.

It’s not the gears that are changing; it’s the open-mindedness of the industry that leads to more innovations and better equipment to perfect what man has created.
We spend many hours on the phone in addition to meeting experts in the gear industry to gather information about new technology, the history, applications and procedures in manufacturing excellence. As the number one magazine for the gear manufacturer with the most BPA-audited readers, Gear Solutions is committed to being the most respected and informative publication for the gear industry. Published monthly, our print and online digital magazine along with an archive of every article published provides readers with diverse editorial content that is current and thought-provoking.

We look forward to industry events such as IMTS, where we have the opportunity to meet with key manufacturing officials from around the world to discuss our business and peek into the future of our industry.

Gear manufacturing does have a future and the future is only limited by how we implement processes to suit the application.

About The Author
Sherri Mabry is the managing editor of Gear Solutions magazine and Wind Systems magazine with a background in construction, transportation and manufacturing. Contact her at 1-800-366-2185 x 205 or