The American Gear Manufacturers Association has a wealth of resources for its members. Talk to AGMA members across the country and you’ll find the association’s influence is far-reaching and multi-faceted. With members in over 32 nations and a history spanning more than 95 years, AGMA specializes in a wide array of products and services for mechanical power transmission, as well as gear design and manufacturing. The technical standards, engineering classes, strategic resource network, and annual gear expo are all benefits of joining the AGMA. Gear Solutions spoke to a broad range of AGMA members, from both large and small companies, to better understand how AGMA membership can benefit virtually anyone in the gear industry.
One of the most popular AGMA resources, used by gear companies across the country, is the skills assessment test. The test was designed by Jeff Reynolds, manufacturing engineering team lead for Rolls Royce. Jeff explains the concept:
I was finding it difficult to find a path of what you needed to know in the gear world. A starting point for that is, “Ok, what are the skills you need to have? How do you define where you are and what you need to learn?” You have to have some starting point. So I assembled a committee to create a skills assessment test. Our main goal was to put together gear education curriculum by job class, and I figured AGMA would be the entity to work with—AGMA is where the standards come from.
Companies such as Boston Gear, which just recently started using the skills assessment test, take advantage of the flexibility of its design. Frank Sultzman, manager for product engineering and quality assurance, explains:
We saw it a few month’s ago on AGMA’s website and tailored some of the measurement criteria to our own operations (e.g. we don’t do shaving, so we disregard that section). We’ve used an AGMA skills assessment test in our engineering department to evaluate what the newer engineers need to develop, and soon we’ll using one for the operators, too. We’re using it for hobbing operators, gear inspection operators—several places. It’s tells you where your needs are for further development.
Justin McCarthy, president of Scot Forge Ringmasters, agrees:
People are talking about what a great tool the AGMA Skills Assessment Tool is to assess employees’ skill level for the job that they are doing and to evaluate them for other jobs within a gear manufacturer for which they may be cross-trained. You can use it in so many different aspects of your business: in forging, for example, we can use it to determine “what skills does someone need in order to run a forging press, heat treat forgings, or operate a machining center?” It’s customizable, and at Scot Forge, we are developing our version of the skills assessment tool to also be used as a training and development plan for employees. I would suggest that if a company is not currently using something similar, they should at least refer to it for its theory and functionality where they see fit—no sense reinventing the wheel where you can take advantage of an excellent template.
With an intense emphasis on continuing education, AGMA has consistently added to its advanced gear engineering course offerings to create the AGMA Advanced Gear Engineering Academy. In that time more than 1,200 individuals have participated in those courses, including Philadelphia Gear’s Tiffany Rolette:
When I started, my boss told me to take all the courses that AGMA offers, since most colleges don’t have too many classes dedicated to gear design. The classes are a great way to get an overall view of how everything works. In college, only two or three weeks are spent on gearing, so it’s good to get a more in depth view. I remember one course in particular, where you’re in a shop seeing how the drawings are turned into gears. That was the most helpful, because I spend all day at work on the design side of things. Seeing that first-hand helps me as a designer to understand what can and can’t be done. Half the course was in the classroom, the other half in the shop. It broadened my view.
Ray’s a very interesting speaker to listen to. Sitting in one spot for eight hours a day can be difficult, but he makes it very engaging.
uniGear Industries’ engineer David Hamilton started taking the classes as soon as they were introduced, and says he was lucky to have two bosses who placed a lot of emphasis on continuing education:
At the time, I was a production manager, and even though my duties were not directly engineering related, they found it important to keep educating us. As of today, I’ve taken virtually every class AGMA has to offer. I began my career at uniGear fresh out of the university and was very fortunate enough to be part of a dynamic forward thinking company. uniGear David Brown Systems Canada is state-of-the-art manufacturing facility that produces custom gearing and gearbox solutions for large variety of industries. Ron Mehra and Peter Zurcher, our company founders, always found it important that we learn and stay current. This is where AGMA and its training has been an invaluable asset to our success. The quality of the courses and teachers is outstanding and this truly makes learning about the gear industry very interesting and rewarding. We as a company highly recommend the training offered by AGMA.
Boston Gear’s Frank Sultzman was one of the first to finish five of the classes taught by Raymond Drago and received a certificate from the Advanced Gearing Engineering Academy. The instructor, he said, made a huge impact:
Mr. Drago has an excellent knowledge base. While everything isn’t relevant to everybody, you always pick up things you never thought of. The sessions are professionally done, very technical, with good information, handouts, and samples. He brings in gears, especially if we’re talking about failure analysis. He has quite a bit of experience to share about the real-world applications.
But the engineering classes aren’t the only way to capitalize on AGMA’s networking potential. The Strategic Resource Network (SRN), a group of professionals employed in AGMA member companies, hold meetings and tour facilities every year. The SRN addresses such topics as workforce issues, leadership, best business practices, AGMA programs, and personal development. One member, Steve Janke, president of Brelie Gear Co., describes his experience in the SRN:
I started with the SRN in 2008. It’s been a great experience. I’m part of the group that steers where we’re going and what we’re doing. It’s meant to help people in the industry develop relationships and network, and that’s exactly what it’s done for me. I’ve made contact with gear companies across the country—resources to use when something comes up that we haven’t seen before. It’s a very open line of communication within the SRN—nobody’s trying to hide anything.
In planning SRN meetings, we change up the topics regularly so that we’re not always talking about the same thing. We plan tours of facilities that are relevant to the topics we discuss, things we wouldn’t normally get to see firsthand. These facility tours are wide-ranging. For example, I’m a job shop manufacturer dealing in the smaller-scale gears—fine, medium-pitch—so taking a tour of GE Locomotive Plant with the SRN puts everything on a whole different scale. It’s awesome to see—I don’t think about things that large! And the same goes for people in the large-scale arena—seeing things on a small scale allows you to learn something new. We try to walk away from each tour with at least one way to do something a little differently than we’re doing now.
The SRN is also a great way to get involved with AGMA. Since joining the SRN, I’ve joined the trade show committee as well as being given the opportunity to join the AGMA board of directors. I believe those opportunities have happened as a result of my involvement with the SRN. It’s a great way to answer the question, “How do I get involved?”
Ross Wegryn-Jones, account manager for AA Gear & Manufacturing, makes sure to stay in contact with his fellow SRN members because, as he puts it:
It’s great to interact with people outside of the meetings, in everyday business. It’s a different relationship than just knowing each other through general industry knowledge. You can learn much more from a conversation with multiple participants than you can with just a few.
Wegryn-Jones says the SRN meetings are a highlight for him every year, partially because of their unique regional flavor:
The great thing about these events is that they attract AGMA and non-AGMA members from the area. The last event I went on with them was in Canada, where we saw a lot of people from the local economy that we wouldn’t have seen ordinarily. The SRN meetings have a local flavor to them, whereas the AGMA annual meetings are more global.
Justin McCarthy explains how the SRN was created to help build the next leadership in the gear industry:
It allows employees at various levels of responsibility within a gear company to be exposed to other companies—benchmarks of the industry—to see how they go about their business. The topics are wide ranging. In the past I hosted a meeting about developing new talent and how to get younger people interested in manufacturing through internships and curriculum in elementary and high schools. We partnered with a local community college to develop courses that would help train future entry level employees. I would encourage companies to send at least one or two of their promising employees to participate and benefit from participating in AGMA’s Strategic Resources Network.
Of course, no other industry event compares to the annual AGMA Gear Expo, which McCarthy describes as:
“…a powerful biennial event, and no matter what the economic climate, you’ll come into contact with a significant chunk of the global gear industry in one location. I always come away with a lot of valuable new contacts, information, possible new suppliers, customers, great networking, technical papers, and fruitful discussions. There’s so much for anyone to benefit from. If you can exhibit, that’s great, but if not, the networking opportunities alone is reason enough to attend. One powerful thing I’ve learned over the years from attending and exhibiting at Gear Expo is that if promotes the atmosphere of “How can we work together?” Within the gear industry there are suppliers and customers partnering with each other.
AGMA membership is an opportunity to grow in the industry like none other.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on the role the American Gear Manufacturers Association plays in the gear industry.
Next month, Gear Solutions will turn its focus on specific contributions that AGMA has made that have helped make the current gear manufacturing industry what it is today.