Future of gear design relies on overcoming present

Improved production efficiency through optimized machinability or heat-treat
response can result in lower costs — and more contract wins.

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Increasing application demands and the need for higher performance mean the future is coming fast for gear designs. The next generation of gear engineers needs to be ready to tackle these ever-growing challenges. Here are a just a few ways we believe “Materials Matter” for the gear of the future.

Design is relevant. More than ever before, customized solutions using a combination of cleaner steels and specific alloy design to get the results you need will be critical. Enhanced performance characteristics as a result of fatigue failure resistance, such as improved fatigue life and power densification, depend on it. New grade development in this area will take these factors even further.

Supply chain collaboration provides greater benefits. Having easy access from the material all the way through to the end product — from steel supplier to gear cutter, heat-treater to transmission builder — offers extreme efficiencies in process flow. As the lines between engineering disciplines blur, successful gear steel suppliers of the future, such as TimkenSteel with its application and modeling knowledge and broad offering of products and value-added services, provide a wider variety of solutions, from beginning to end, with deep knowledge across the entire supply chain.

Further, gear designers know winning the next contract often means having the best total cost footprint. Working with suppliers who can provide an understanding of how the chosen steel affects manufacturing operations is invaluable. Improved production efficiency through optimized machinability or heat-treat response can result in lower costs — and more contract wins.

Specifications must become more meaningful. Current standards are simply not specific enough to address the higher-performance needs of future applications. Systems today are designed with conservatism, using paradigms that are decades old, and even wasteful. Enhanced performance requires more design-relevant information, and that means partnering with a supplier who will meet specs today, recognizes the challenges ahead, and can help to design and meet the relevant specs for tomorrow.

Speed is a huge opportunity. Design engineers of the future should be able to do as much virtually as possible, without relying on traditional, empirical validation that can take years to achieve. Tools such as advanced modeling, coupled with expertise and data about the performance of materials in applications, are just the beginning of the spectrum when enhancing the speed of design to production.

It’s not just what we know today. It’s what we know about what we don’t know, and how fast we learn what we need to know, then make that know-how commercially relevant and successfully implement those solutions. A supplier’s depth of knowledge allows a quantitative relationship between metrics and end-application design limits. And, a supplier’s willingness to speak in a design language — or relating specs and standards to ways of characterizing — is a tremendous asset in design. Together, these factors will reduce costs and increase efficiency.

The next generation of gear designers must achieve never-before-seen levels of performance. As we head into a world with longer life, increased power and enhanced efficiency as the norm, overcoming the material uncertainty that exists today will help build the path to get us there. Ultimately, gear designers need to expect more from their steel suppliers; they must have a valued partnership in which steel suppliers understand where new developments could occur and help gear-design engineers to take the greatest advantage of them. 

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E. Buddy Damm
steel solutions scientist at TimkenSteel Corporation, is responsible for developing new or improved products for TimkenSteel’s customers and developing new or improved processes for TimkenSteel’s manufacturing operations. He is passionate about understanding and solving customer needs in order to build TimkenSteel solutions. In his 20-year tenure, he has served as a research and development engineer, failure analyst, and engineering manager. He has expertise in Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME), thermodynamics, and kinetics of microstructure evolution, thermo-mechanical processing, fatigue and fracture mechanics, and failure analysis. He has served on the board of the Iron and Steel Society and is active in metallurgy and product-related professional societies such as AGMA, the Forging Industry Association (FIA), and The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society (TMS). Damm holds a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering from Michigan Technological University and a master's degree and doctorate in material science and engineering from Colorado School of Mines. He can be reached at e.buddy.damm@timkensteel.com.