Although Leonardo da Vinci is credited with sketching the first rudimentary “double-enveloping” worm gear, Cone Drive Gearing Solutions has perfected it with a design that provides the torque and extended service life demanding applications require. “Our double-enveloping worm gearing design brings as many as eight teeth into contact, compared to 1 or 1.5 for traditional worm gearing,” according to Bob Nichols, product manager. “This results in an extremely high degree of stiffness, precision, and durability, along with a higher load-carrying and shock-load capacity than traditional worm gear designs can deliver.”
While the Cone Drive design doesn’t quite date back to da Vinci’s times, it does have a rich history. In the early twenties a civilian machinist and draftsman by the name of Samuel I. Cone who worked at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard designed and patented an improved Hindley worm gear. He licensed the Michigan Tool Company to develop the cutting tools, machines, and manufacturing processes required to produce the gearing, and it soon established its Cone Drive Division in 1925 to actually manufacture the double-enveloping worm gearing. Recognizing the design’s outstanding attributes, the U.S. Navy began utilizing the gears—nearly every gun on its ships, all the way up to its 16-inch behemoths, were being driven by Cone Drive gearing—and by the end of World War II they were being used in everything from aircraft to submarines. The gears were also used in the landing-wheel gearboxes in the country’s first jet-propelled airplane, the Bell XP-59A AIRACOMET.
The military wasn’t the only market that recognized and appreciated the attributes of double-enveloping worm gears. Cone Drive evolved into servicing non-defense applications that demanded strength and precision. From rock crushers to robots and satellite positioning, the company has been called upon whenever durability and accuracy are key concerns.
Nichols says the company’s new name of Cone Drive Gearing Solutions was chosen to reflect its dedication to helping its customers overcome their design challenges. “Double-enveloping worm gearing provides a lot of power in a fairly small space, which can allow for machine downsizing, and we have a staff of experienced application engineers who assist our clients in determining the right solution for their particular application,” he says. “And we adopted the principles of lean manufacturing about six years ago, so we’re constantly working to improve our efficiency so that we can offer shorter lead times and quicker deliveries.”
New products have been developed, as well. In addition to its worm gear units—the quiet and compact model HP, the Conex Helicoidal Series B, the DuoDrive with pinch-roll reducers, an extruder drive, and standard and custom model HP gearsets—the company offers Accudrive servo gear products, a range of gearmotors, series G industrial gearboxes, and precision planetary gearing. It has also designed and manufactures a zero-backlash gearset that was named “Product of the Year” by Plant Engineering magazine.
A variety of services are also available, including on-site technical support and gearbox remanufacturing of its own and other makes. The company is especially well known for the educational opportunities offered through its Cone Drive Gear Institute (CDGI). Classes including a maintenance course, an intermediate gear course, and an advanced gear course are held at CDGI headquarters in Traverse City, Michigan, or at its customers’ facilities.
Though relatively autonomous, Cone Drive works closely with its sister company David Brown Gear Systems with its manufacturing facilities located in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, France, China, and Sweden—in serving markets such as defense, steel, packaging, pulp and paper, food and beverage, mining, energy, and machine tools.
Now celebrating its 85th anniversary, Cone Drive Gearing Solutions is marking the occasion by redesigning its Web site, entering new markets such as renewable energy—for which its worm gears position many thousands of solar panels—and redoubling its efforts to help its customers attain their manufacturing goals.
“We’ve long been known throughout industry for the strength, durability, and reliability of our products,” Nichols says, “and we’re building on that with our increasing involvement in the front end of our customers’ design processes. So we’re enjoying celebrating our past accomplishments with ‘Cone Drive 85,’ but we’re eager to continue our growth and evolution in the coming years.”