Q&A with Rick Miller

President
Innovative Drive Solutions LLC

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Please tell us a little about your background.

My background and experience is in gear and gearbox system design, analysis, and application in a number of industries. With 37 years at Oerlikon Fairfield, 16 years as chief engineer, I’ve created over 300 original gearbox system designs.

I have worked with companies to create innovative solutions to their power transmission needs in industries including agriculture, energy, kitchen appliances, lawn equipment, mining, transportation, on and off highway, construction, and general industrial. In the past year, I have done work in the aerospace, lawn equipment, mining, energy (oil and gas), and general industrial (lift truck) industries.

I am a proud member of AGMA, SAE, and ASME. I hold two patents and a third is in process. I am active in the Ohio State Gear Lab Consortium and am vice chair of the AGMA Vehicle Gearing Committee.

Please tell us how Innovative Drive Solutions began.

I started Innovative Drive Solutions LLC in January 2015 in order to provide companies with my help and expertise in developing the optimum, most efficient, quiet, and cost-effective means of transmitting power by creating the best power transmission solutions.

Innovative Drive Solutions always puts the customer first, and the personal relationships forged make repeat business a frequent occurrence. As an inventor, I am always discovering a solution to every problem to the benefit of my customers.

What services does Innovative Drive Solutions offer to customers?

Innovative Drive Solutions provides excellent design engineering service in optimizing gears, gearboxes, and other geared devices for maximum efficiency, low noise, optimum life, high performance, and minimum cost. In today’s competitive business environment, all of these attributes are increasingly important and can be accomplished by optimizing my customers’ existing designs, creating a new Innovative Drive Solutions design, or solving a customer’s existing gear or system problem.

My clients across the United States and around the world appreciate the personal attention I give to their business. They value my expertise in gear and complete gearbox system design and analysis, noise reduction, and gear stress and life optimization. I find solutions to problems often in the hard-to-solve technical areas.

Can you give us an example of how you worked with a customer to find a solution to a gearing issue?

Based on mutual trust and respect, I establish new and nurture existing personal relationships with each customer. For example, a large manufacturer of motorcycles came to me for a noise problem in their transmission. I traveled to their facility and met with their engineering team to discuss the problem and gather background and history of the problem. I analyzed the gears and came up with a solution to their problem, which involved some modifications to their gears. The solution worked. The re-made gears were significantly quieter, and the customer was satisfied.

What challenges do you see, and how do you handle them?

To be competitive in today’s global business environment, companies demand products that do more with less, have higher efficiency, lower noise, long life, higher power density, reduced stresses, lower costs, lighter weight, and improved quality.

Changes have taken place in gear manufacturing processes and techniques as well as the industry as a whole. The Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, and increased automation are examples of some of the changes that are taking place in the industry.

I see this affecting the industry in at least four separate ways: design, manufacturing, testing, and application. Smart devices, machine-to-machine communication, feedback loops, and improved sensing capabilities allow for much more data collection and analysis. For example, duty cycle monitoring in real time can take place.

In terms of design, I see more and more companies having small and reduced gear and gearbox design engineering resources on staff and choosing to outsource that function. In addition, design tools, software, hardware, etc. have become more robust, powerful, and accurate.

I meet these challenges by keeping up with the latest technologies, remaining active in technical groups like AGMA, ASME, and The Ohio State University Gear Lab Consortium, staying familiar with the tools, and networking with others including other consultants within the industry. Through my consultancy serving a wide variety of clients in many industries, I am able to stay abreast with the latest challenges and solutions.

How has the gear market evolved, and how do you see it moving in the future?

The market has become much more competitive, and this affects both national and international suppliers. The market is much more international, in terms of both end users and suppliers. Segments of the market have experienced different rates of growth or shrinkage. Mining and parts of the oil and gas industry are down significantly, while commercial aerospace, defense, green energy, and other industries are up. Suppliers who are overly dependent on the industries where demand is down are struggling. Flexibility is required, as well as large investment in capital equipment, in order to remain competitive in today’s environment. In the future, there will be consolidation in the gear supplier community. Technology is moving ahead fast, and the rate of change is only increasing.

What were some of your key takeaways from AGMA’s 2016 Fall Technical Meeting?

I was honored to present a technical paper at the AGMA Fall Technical Meeting, where I enjoyed contributing to and learning from my peers. AGMA is a vital, vibrant, and energized organization, and for 100 years, both it and the member companies have and are effectively meeting the needs and challenges of the gear industry. The conference was well-attended, and many high-quality and relevant technical papers were presented and were well-received by attendees.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, go to www.innovativedrivesolutions.com