In preparation for a Motion Trends article about changes in the gear industry, I recently spoke with Craig Van den Avont, President of GAM Gear, about general advances that have changed the design process for engineers that use gearboxes.
GAM Gear makes gear reducers as well as couplings, and linear mounting kits. According to Van den Avont, the biggest trend that’s driving change isn’t advances in gearing itself but rather the manufacturing technology and capabilities to produce gears. That’s because the average machine tool today is much more precise and flexible than those 10 years ago.
When asked about other aspects of modern gear design, here’s what Van den Avont had to say.
Eitel | Design World: Tell me how machine-tool changes have impacted gearbox design.
Van den Avont | GAM Gear: Well, quality high-precision gearboxes today are less costly to manufacture. That’s thanks to more automation of machine tools as well as expanded machine-tool capabilities in the form of live tooling and multi-axis machines. In fact, today’s machine tools are much simpler to program than those of the past. We can quickly program machines to output small quantities of unique components for custom gearboxes.
The service side is better, too. 3D modeling software is better than ever, as is CAM software, so we can now take 3D models down into the machine tool in post-processing work that’s simpler than ever. That enables more customization than ever.
Eitel | Design World: Has this changed how design engineers source their gears?
Van den Avont | GAM Gear: Well, more automation, machine-tool flexibility, and software capability have spurred quite a bit of reshoring, bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., particularly for low-and-medium-volume orders. That’s how we work more closely with designers in the U.S., both for new designs and servicing gearboxes in existing machines.
In fact, our flexibility to customize our gearboxes differentiates us from competition based in the Far East and Europe, as they sell in the U.S. but don’t have local production. Such gear makers manufacture overseas and incur transportation costs, so generally only sell standardized products of very high volume.
While we too offer a wide range of standard gearboxes, our flexible in-house manufacturing gives us the ability to tailor gearboxes and components as needed for special applications. To fit a stainless-steel output shaft to an otherwise standard gearbox, for example, we’d load a bar feeder with stainless steel and produce one lot of stainless steel shafts, maybe with a customized output housing. The possibilities abound.
Eitel | Design World: Do you have specific examples?
Van den Avont | GAM Gear: For an application in the oil industry, we make a customized stainless-steel gearbox with special housing / sealing assembly that actually goes down into wells on directional-drilling machinery.
Eitel | Design World: What else should design engineers know about modern gear design?
Van den Avont | GAM Gear: Design engineers should leverage online selection tools and configurators, because today’s machine tools can execute all the design permutations these tools can generate. Thanks to that and advances in 3D modeling, the efficiency of the design process had skyrocketed. So, design engineers can leverage that to collaborate with manufacturers to get designs that are better than ever. In fact, end users can offload work to our engineers so they can concentrate on actual machine design.
For example, we might collaborate with an end user to take two standard products and manufacture a specialty one or two-piece adapter or coupling to join them. Then we’ll sell the end user the completed assembly. That means we also assume the job of modeling the assembly. In a lot of cases, such services are free or low cost.
Eliminating components is a big trend in the industry. Just 10 or 15 years ago, the only real gearbox shaft option was a standard output shaft. Then, hollow outputs came on the scene. Now there are flange outputs. All these options boost overall machine stiffness and reduce part count. In fact, we even make custom housings and shafts by machining output shafts with unique features that replicate what the gearboxes previously interfaced, which in turn eliminates secondary components.
GAM Gear, a manufacturer of precision gear reducers, servo couplings, and linear mounting kits (products designed to simplify mounting to linear actuators), announces the release …
GAM Gear announces the release of the 2013 GAM catalog. For the first time ever, all of GAM’s product groups can be found in a single 102-page catalog …
With the all-new SPH series inline planetary gearbox, GAM Gear (www.gamweb.com) provides a new level of precision and power to its extensive portfolio of gear technology …
By building domestic production capacity and inventory, GAM enhances customer experience and expedites shipping of robust, feature-rich standard and custom components …