Fred Young

CEO
Forest City Gear Co.
Roscoe, Ill.

Not that long ago, it wasn’t unusual for manufacturers to have in-house test and verification facilities. Far fewer have those capabilities today. This regrettable situation affects even the largest OEMs and their suppliers. While complying with standards such as ISO on process or ASTM and AGMA on materials and gears, to cite examples from our world, might seem tedious and lacking that precious ROI, they are most essential, even in these highly price-driven times.

Your competitors might not comply but, as we all learned in school, the lowest common denominator is just a minimum baseline. In manufacturing, that thwarts quality and advancement of your industry, regardless of your end product. This message is not easily digested today, but one all companies must grasp to survive and prosper.

Most firms usually believe they’re supplying good-quality products, but the problem might be in the materials they use rather than their designs or production protocols. It’s a fact, for example, that 75% of the gears and splines made in the U.S. today would not meet ANSI’s analytical standards. This results from a belief at many companies that simply checking for functional performance is sufficient. It is not.

Verification must be independent of product-performance specs and must be analytical in nature. This inevitably mandates that companies purchase more-sophisticated testing devices both for incoming materials and the products they manufacture.

For instance, we use five key parameters in our quality department in addition to testing all incoming materials, namely: involute profile of the gear tooth on the flank, lead on the axial tooth, index variation of adjacent teeth, accumulated variations of all teeth, and runout or eccentricities from the datum. A functional spline gage that tracks the cumulative values for all five parameters might indicate a part is acceptable, even though one or more values could be out of tolerance.

Any association setting standards should adhere to an international, independent verification protocol. Our trade association, the American Gear Manufacturers Assn. (AGMA) is now doing this, incidentally.

There is a false perception that American companies can let quality decline in order to be more competitive. That may pay economic benefits in the short run but, again, striving to be the lowest-cost producer does not improve competitiveness.

As a matter of physical fact, time-tested products such as gears and splines tend to be somewhat forgiving, but what is the true cost of quality? If customers perceive that you are a low-cost and lower, although acceptable, quality manufacturer, you have signaled your own demise in the market. That might not be a fashionable notion to proffer, these days, but it’s true.

We encourage independent verification of all product and material standards, going forward. The net result will be a positive impact on the overall market. As John F. Kennedy observed, a rising tide raises all boats. The return to a genuine sense of pride in American ingenuity and quality manufacturing will mark the beginning of that trend. md

Edited by Kenneth Korane