When you look at engineered or manufactured solutions, it requires a certain type of expertise and versatility. Knowledge is extremely important when coming up with a concept, and so is the ability to have the visual acuity to look at a blank piece of paper and figure out how to come up with a solution. Companies requiring a custom gearbox solution are in a unique situation. Certain needs have to be met, such as small space requirements, certain input and output etc., all while falling within a certain budget. The problem that those companies are facing, and many others in manufacturing, is that the number of experienced engineers in the workforce is rapidly decreasing.
Rj Link International serves a niche market in the designing and manufacturing of custom gearboxes. The engineering team’s 75+ years of experience in the Power Transmission Market has Rj Link becoming a hard to come by solution provider, especially during times when experienced engineers are reaching retirement age. Rj Link’s Application/Sales Manager, Eric Olson, has over 23 years of Analysis, Design and R & D experience in a wide of variety of applications and industries. Eric shares his thoughts on the skill level of engineers entering into the workforce. Eric stated “Young engineers, until they get seasoned, have not experienced enough of a variety. Most are great in their basic CAD software, but they are really becoming more of theoretical type of engineers. The numbers work as long as they can follow a formula. When it starts becoming time to deviate from that is where you run into problems. This is where experience pays off. What I see a lot when people are dealing with gearboxes and/or gears is that everything is either a bevel, parallel, some type of planetary or worm gear, but they don’t really know how to put them all together. A lot of engineers are not hands on, but are more of a general engineer.” Eric further stated “Engineers are not staying at jobs very long, so they are not getting enough versatility or variety in it. They might build a gearbox once or twice, and might get the mindset that they can conquer anything. The problem is that we need some product champions, people that understand the industry, what works and what doesn’t, and people that are more hands on.”
Over the years, the educational institutions have gone away from that hands on training, and manufacturing is starting to see the effects of that. When Eric went through engineering school he was taught gearing and had hands on training. Students entered into a program and would spend the summer working in a related field. Eric stated “ I worked in a shop and learned how to run lathes, mills, hobbing machines, and worked on grinders. I learned how to service the machines, order the tooling, and cut the parts. I actually went to the inspection and measured things, and got involved with the heat treater to see how much the material grows and unwinds. I learned about every aspect that goes into something”. There are many processes that go into engineering solutions. Companies have become very lean and they want to bring in a seasoned employee with a lot of experience; however, they don’t want them too old or too young, and salary is always a concern. Eric stated “The young engineers don’t seem to have the hands on or practicality to visualize the solution. A lot of young engineers that I meet see a picture in a book, and think this is what they need to do as that’s what they were taught. They have no idea how it got there. They think their CAD model can choose the material, speed, torque, etc., but don’t really understand what’s interchangeable and what’s not. How do you put it all together to make it work? If you do it once, how do you get repeatability out of that? How do you trouble shoot a problem? A lot of those engineers coming out of college were not taught how to do that.”
Eric reflects on the changes that have been taking place in manufacturing and stated “Manufacturing is seeing that the tribal knowledge has been lost over time, as fewer companies are being passed down through generations. Some of the people putting information in the books and online aren’t correct with their information. The training programs, unfortunately due to economics etc., are going away from a manufacturing type of society or environment. People say that it’s dirty to work with your hands in a machine shop, and are saying everyone needs a 4 year degree, etc. As the elder generations start to retire, that tribal knowledge is going away. Now that manufacturing appears to be ramping up again, we have to think of the vast amount of machinery that’s out there. There are so many people that have no idea what to do with their machinery or even how to fix it. Many people that think a gear is a gear, a bearing is a bearing, metal is metal, and all designs are the same. The mechanics of people and how they think and function just isn’t where it used to be. It’s more than just putting pieces of metal together and making them rotate. There’s a lot to it, and if you get someone seasoned with enough variety, then they have confidence in what they do.”
Rj Link has been filling the niche by offering the engineering solutions that other companies are lacking. The team has seen many different packages, and that comes with time and variety. Rj Link’s engineering team’s ability to understand design and capacity capabilities, and the team’s knowledge to understand what can and cannot be done is proving to be a valuable resource for many companies.