Business survival horror stories begin one of two ways. A company either bets the farm on the latest tech trend or conceitedly refuses to adapt to an evolving market.
Success stories are written by companies who build solid foundations on middle ground — embracing the advantages and dismissing the pitfalls of both extremes.
Rochester, New York-based Gleason Corporation counts itself among the success stories. Founded in 1865, the company long ago established itself as a “household name” in gear manufacturing circles through an unwavering commitment to its mission of being The Total Gear Solutions Provider™.
Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, the company attributes its longevity to a core set of intangible attributes that have been present since day one.
“The anniversary is unique in many respects,” said John J. Perrotti, president and chief executive officer of Gleason Corporation. “After 150 years, it’s still a leader — the leader, really — in advanced manufacturing solutions for gearing. It’s absolutely at the upper end of advanced manufacturing, and for Gleason to still today after all this time be the leader in its field is a great testimonial to the people who helped both establish the company and create a vision, and to all of our employees, who helped realize that vision.”
BUILDING A LEGACY
Gleason’s success story is an ongoing narrative, first penned by founder William Gleason, who as the U.S. was rebuilding and expanding in the wake of the Civil War, saw promise in the emerging metalworking industry.
Gleason, who had amassed a wealth of knowledge about the industry through machine shop apprenticeships and armory work experience prior to and during the war, started a small operation of his own in Rochester in 1865.
There, he embarked on what would become for his company a fundamental tradition of innovation — evidenced most notably by his invention of the bevel gear planer in 1874, followed shortly thereafter by recognizing and taking advantage of demand from foreign markets.
“The company was ahead of its time relative to exploring new markets,” Perrotti said. “Even back in the late-1880s, the company was selling internationally. There are the famous stories of Kate Gleason, the daughter of the founder William Gleason, who in the late-1880s, was traveling abroad within Europe by herself selling machines. The company still maintains that spirit today.”
In the years and decades that followed, the company continued to incorporate innovative business practices to complement its innovation among its product lines, growing the company to become a world leader in innovative, high-quality solutions for the global gear manufacturing industry.
“Our greatest asset is our name,” Perrotti said. “Today, when customers hear our name, it’s still respected as not only a technical leader, but also as a very reliable partner. I think the other thing people associate with our name and company is ‘The Total Gear Solutions Provider.’ That’s our mission. Gleason is the leader and the largest gear production solutions provider because we offer the widest range of solutions, from bevel gears to cylindrical gears, gear metrology, and also automation solutions.”
The company is comprised of eight divisions, which operate 12 production facilities, 17 sales offices, and six technical centers across the U.S., Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia. These facilities have allowed Gleason to broaden its reach to customers in more than 60 nations across the globe.
To its customers, that broad global reach is assurance that they can expect the same level of quality, service, and support on which Gleason has built its reputation — no matter how far away they are from Rochester.
“A big part of our success is that we are very close to our customers and we continue to expand our manufacturing footprint,” Perrotti said. “Our goal is to deliver to our customers the same quality products and technical support no matter where they are.”
PRESERVING THE LEGACY
Gleason plans to maintain that role going forward as technology continues to play a leading role in the evolution of both culture and manufacturing. Although the challenges brought on by technological change will be new, the company’s strategy, which for more than a century has been forged on innovation, will go largely untouched.
“As fast as technology changes, there are some things that remain constant,” Perrotti said. “The company is going to build on its legacy of the past. That includes, first and foremost, the company’s culture and values. A lot of those elements, which have helped the company endure, will be important ingredients in terms of the company’s success even a hundred years from now.”
Gleason will assess emerging trends and technologies in manufacturing, and through the lens of the company’s core values — integrity, creativity, continuous learning, a customer-centric focus, results orientation, and accountability — develop advanced solutions for its global customer base.
“As we think about the future, we do think about some of the major trends in the markets,” Perrotti said. “But it starts with our customers. Part of how Gleason has been successful as long as it has is because it’s had a keen focus on its customers. We try to understand their needs in terms of the direction that they’re going, and what they need relative to gearing.”
A significant part of the company’s strategy is an initiative called Gleason 4.0. Modeled after progressive, 21st-century value chain concepts known in Europe as Industry 4.0 (“digital manufacturing” or “smart factories” here in the U.S.), Gleason 4.0 seeks to incorporate efficiency, precision, and other benefits resulting from advanced technologies (e.g., mobile computing, advanced monitoring, cloud services, etc.) into traditional gear manufacturing processes and applications. As a result, Gleason’s customers in the gear manufacturing community will see significant gains in productivity, quality, and efficiency.
“[Gleason 4.0] is how we take the next leap for our customers in terms of reducing the time to develop, design, and produce gears, as well as optimizing the gear process, tooling, and machine up-time,” Perrotti said.
The initiative consists of four segments: G-Uptime, G-Process, G-Production, and G-Tools. Each segment is made up of new or developing technologies tailored toward optimization of their respective category. These technology segments work in harmony to create a significant amount of data about the systems and machines. Through big data analysis tools and methods, Gleason’s customers are then able to optimize their production processes.
“That can make a substantive difference in terms of how our customers produce parts in the future,” Perrotti said. “It’s producing better quality parts more consistently with less waste and significantly improved efficiency.”
Gleason 4.0 and other initiatives reflect a significant shift in technology infrastructure, and will certainly be met with challenges in adoption and implementation within the industry. However, Perrotti remains confident that the company will meet those tests head-on, considering Gleason’s extensive experience in providing the industry with customized solutions.
“It will be a different experience with each customer,” he said. “Many customers already have their own factory information systems. They have many different types of machinery and equipment in their factory. It will ultimately involve customized solutions for each of our customers. That’s what we’re used to in our business model. Of the hundreds of machines we ship each year, each has some level of customization. That’s a core competency for us.”
The bigger challenge, according to Perrotti, will likely be looking beyond just the tool and toward the process.
“Part of our mission as The Total Gear Solutions Provider is to find incremental ways to add value for our customers,” he said. “That involves us being more systems-focused. It’s thinking in a broader systems context, both in terms of the actual production equipment, but also in terms of the data collection, data analysis, and ultimately the resulting knowledge databases.”
150TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
Gleason is commemorating its anniversary with a number of events throughout 2015. In June, the company hosted a gala celebration at its headquarters in Rochester. The event drew more than 1,200 attendees, including current employees, retirees, customers, suppliers, international executives and employees, as well as members of the Rochester community.
The purpose of the gala celebration, Perrotti said, was to “recognize such an important milestone that very few companies have achieved — to reflect on the past — but also to speak with enthusiasm and anticipation for the future and how we can build on that foundation to sustain and extend the company’s leadership.”
Among the notable elements at the gala celebration was a historical exhibit tracing Gleason’s development as a company from its roots when founder William Gleason set up his two-person shop in Rochester in 1865, to the company’s present-day status as the preeminent provider of equipment, tools, and technology for the gear manufacturing industry.
While highlighting significant events in the company’s history, the exhibit also draws parallels to pivotal eras in U.S. and world history, examining the role society played in the development of the company, and vice versa.
“The company was founded right at the end of the Civil War, and grew through the industrial revolution, the advent of automobiles and airplanes, the World Wars, and into the start of the Space Age,” Perrotti said. “You can follow and trace what happened in terms of major events in world history as you go through the company’s history. I truly believe that the company, over those 150 years, has made an impact not just on the local communities where we employ people, but on a broader global basis.”
A similar interactive historical timeline can be found on a website Gleason created solely for the 150th anniversary celebration. In addition to the timeline, the site — located at www.gleason150.com — features documentary videos, company information, “then and now” elements, and a guestbook.
GEAR SOLUTIONS FORUM
This autumn, Gleason is expecting several hundred people to attend its fourth Gear Solutions Forum, a two-day educational event focused on the gear manufacturing industry. The event will be held on September 23 and 24 at the company’s headquarters in Rochester.
“We’ll have more than 40 displays of live demonstrations of gear processes for all types of gear applications ranging from plastic gears that you almost need a microscope to see, to gears that are 2 meters in diameter, and virtually every gear production process on display,” Perrotti said.
Gleason is teaming with suppliers and other industry partners for the event, which is intended to be an educational, knowledge-based experience where industry personnel can share thoughts and ideas about the industry while learning about current and forthcoming efforts to carry gear manufacturing into the future.
In addition to the live demonstrations, experts from within the industry and from academia are scheduled to give presentations on a wide range of topics related to gear manufacturing processes and technologies.
Demonstration and presentation topics will include bevel gear technologies (straight and spiral), high speed hobbing and power skiving of cylindrical gears, inspection and measurement, gear heat treatment, workholding, and next-generation “digital” manufacturing processes, equipment, and software. The historical exhibit from the 150th Anniversary Gala will also be on display at the Gear Solutions Forum.
For more information, Gleason Corporation’s mission is to be The Total Gear Solutions Provider™ to its global customer base. Gleason is a leader in the development, manufacture, and sale of gear production machinery and related equipment and automation solutions. The Company’s products are used by customers in automotive, truck, aircraft, agriculture, mining, energy, construction, power tool, and marine industries and by a diverse set of customers serving various industrial equipment markets. Gleason has manufacturing operations in the United States, Germany, Switzerland, India, China, and Japan, and has sales and service offices throughout North and South America, Europe, and in the Asia-Pacific region.
More information about Gleason Corporation is available at www.gleason.com.