Company Profile: Great Lakes Gear Technologies

Aside from his role at Great Lakes Gear Technologies, Ray Mackowsky’s years witnessing CNC development in gear production have given him a unique view of what’s to come.

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Ray Mackowsky's company, Great Lakes Gear Technologies,serves as gear industry consultants and sales representatives for a number of the world's premiere gear equipment companies.

Mackowsky knows the industry thoroughly and from multiple perspectives, and says his 35 years in the gear industry “have been amazing” for what we have seen in the changing technologies for manufacturing parts with gears and splines.

Mackowsky himself has been involved in the gear industry since the early ‘80s, starting as VP of Mfg with Hoglund, a producer of cam dressers for form grinding that produced the first CNC wheel dresser for gear grinding. At American Oerlikon, as VP of Sales, Mackowsky introduced the MAAG Opal Gear Grinders into North America and helped to bring the first Oerlikon CNC bevel lappers and cutting machines into the U.S. automotive market. From there, he briefly joined Klingelnberg and then Gleason as product mangers in the early 90’s for hard finishing products, before relocating to Michigan as Gleason’s regional sales manager for the automotive market.

As the worldwide gear equipment industry expanded, Mackowsky left to start his own company to represent offshore machine tool builders who needed assistance selling their innovative products in North America. He came prepared, spending a year researching various lines in Europe and Japan before launching his agency efforts with a variety of leading edge equipment. As such, Great Lakes Gear Technolgies, Inc. was born in 1998 in Plymouth, Michigan.

The home base of Michigan was already part of the family, so to speak. “My wife Karen grew up here while was a New Jersey native. When I met her she was also in the gear industry as the sales manager for Hofmann Filter in Novi, which supplied coolant filtration systems to many gear grinder producers. She eventually joined my company and is our VP and CFO, a very good move for me as most customers know. She is always colorful, keeping us all amused and me on a short tether.”

Great Lakes earliest product line was Fassler AG which invented gear honing, and today has incredible success in the truck and automotive markets, including gear honing on new 6, 8, and 9 speed automatic transmission gears.

But the most successful line by far for his representation efforts, he said, has been Hofler. “Today we have hundreds of new “CNC gear grinders and hobbers scattered across North America into most gear jobbers and industries—aerospace, offroad, windpower, marine, oil field, and mining,” Mackowsky said. “Just last year Hofler was acquired by Klingelnberg, so, for the second time in my career, Klingelnberg had acquired a company that I was involved with—first when Dieter Klingelnberg acquired Oerlikon, and now 20 years later, when his son and the current CEO, Jan, acquired Hofler.” Mackowsky said he joked to Jan that he will probably not be around for Jan’s son to take control of Klingelnberg for their next acquisition.

Mackowsky said the acquisition has only made the Hofler gear grinding and hobbing machines more attractive, now with the joint offerings of the Klingelnberg gear inspection products and Oerlikon bevel equipment. In  2013, they had three companies that bought all three product lines at once.

“Today all our principals are focused on better, faster, less expensive, and more versatile,” he said. “These are the drivers to successful product lines and what I continuously try to nurture into their varied corporate cultures.”

Additionally, Great Lakes’ principals are focused on improving customer service and support. Four of their key lines—Klingelnberg, Hofler, Fassler, and Profiroll—have facilities and people in the U.S. to support product lines. A team of approximately 50 locally-based people, backed by thousands in Germany and Switzerland, provide service, spare parts, applications support, etc. “It’s a virtual army, and I am pleased to be their point man,” said Mackowsky.

Per their Midwest location, Great Lakes’ target market was initially automotive, but soon its product lines quickly expanded to include all of North America. Today, Great Lakes transcends all the industries that use gear equipment as an exclusive representative for: Hofler (gear grinders and hobbers); Klingelnberg (gear inspection); Fassler (gear honing and diamond hard broaching); Profiroll (gear and spline rolling); and Karl Klink (broaching and broaching tools).

Aside from his role at Great Lakes, Mackowsky’s years witnessing CNC development have also given him a unique view of what’s to come. “The future will bring even more advancements driven by newly emerging technologies,” he said, “such as torque motors, linear drives, higher-accuracy and faster measurement systems, new higher-performance abrasives, tool steels, and tool coating technologies. Companies will be doing more operations on more flexible machines with less operator intervention. Inspection machines will be more portable, shop environment-friendly, and the lab machines will be even more accurate and faster.”

He’s seeing the industry changing by leaps and bounds. “Gear hobbers offer gashing, hobbing, tooth chamfering, and other multi-function features that were previously done via milling and turning,” he said. “In hobbing the trend to carbide inserted gashing tools has once again boosted productivity when combined with conventional hobbing.

Great Lakes’ gear inspection machines also feature surface finish profilometers and surface annealing detection. Gear grinders offer both form and worm wheel capabilities, on board inspection, and OD/ID grinding functions, with ever-increasing focus on eliminating secondary operations.

In gear grinding new abrasives offer grind from solid possibilities which have eliminated gear cutting for some applications when only one or two parts are needed very quickly.

“The other side of our business has been the consulting, whereby we have worked for companies looking for unique suppliers and capabilities to produce gear related components,” Mackowsky said. “We have assisted in outsourcing a number of automotive projects to gear jobbers and also helped companies increase their capabilities to secure the capabilities required to expand their businesses into new areas. One of the more interesting was back in the heyday of windpower growth, GLGT was hired by Gamesa S.A. to assist with the evaluation of large gear shops for the purpose of purchasing gears for their growing U.S. wind turbine operations.  It was fun being on the other side of the table where my traditional gear equipment customers were actually buying us diners for the introductions instead of the reverse.”

But just as importantly Mackowsky said he was fortunate over these years to be able to meet a number of giants in the industry—men from all continents, and key players in the evolution of today’s gear manufacturing and gear equipment industries. “Including some who have sadly passed away recently,” he said, “such as James Cervenka of Arrow Gear, Hagen Hofmann of Hofler, and Richard Dauch of AAM.”

Mackowsy enjoys their participation in the AGMA events, specifically Gear Expo, has grown in importance and diversification every year. “Likewise,” he said, “publications like Gear Solutions and profiles such as this are a great venue for sharing information both on a highly technical level as well as from informal personal perspectives. I think I have the best job in the world and love what I do because of the people I meet in this industry, and given the opportunity and health to continue doing this forever—I just might.” 

For more information:
Contact Great Lakes Gear Technologies at  (734) 416-9300 or visit them online at www.greatlakesgeartech.com.

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is the managing editor with Gear Solutions Magazine.