Dedication to both its customers and its employees is the formula that helps set American Gear & Engineering apart.
Taking care of the customer is the crux of American Gear’s philosophy, according to the president and owner, Jeff Emerson.
“We will do whatever it takes to take care of the customer and always find a way to do it,” he said. “We don’t want to tell anyone, ‘we can’t do it,’”
And American Gear has been helping its customers since it began in 1985.
“We worked heavy in the auto industry for our first 20 years in business,” Emerson said.
“Basically we were on call seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and our whole goal was to keep adding equipment, where, no matter what time of the day or night we were in here, we could make whatever we had to make.” Emerson said. “So through that mission, we’ve evolved into one of the most diverse shops you can probably find anywhere.”
How diverse? Here’s just a sample of what American Gear can do: turning, milling, broaching, slotting, ID grinding, OD grinding, and ceramic spray coating, on most types of gears.
“We do all kind of gear racks, big diameter gears, big pitch parts; we do the largest bevel gears than anyone in the state of Michigan,” Emerson said. “We have the reputation of: If you can’t find anyone, we’ll find a way to do the job for you.”
Some of those specialties include turning up to 107 ½ inches OD, hobbing 100 inches in diameter down to 1 DP, cutting a rack down to ¾ DP at any length, and grinding rack teeth.
And American Gear has added gearbox rebuilding to its line of expertise in the past 10 years.
“Back in the old days, we were building and rebuilding drill heads, and then the automotive and machine tool industry took a downturn, so we got into rebuilding gearboxes,” Emerson said. “So we do a lot of gearbox rebuilding, and that’s become a big niche for us.”
One of the areas where American Gear can operate while bigger companies can’t — or won’t — is by offering one-piece manufacturing, according to Emerson.
“A lot of our work is just one piece,” he said. “Most shops don’t want to deal with one piece. We do a lot of onesie, twosie work. Everything we do is custom made. We don’t do production work. We can make just about anything, and our quality is outstanding. So, I think that sets us apart from everyone else.”
A large part of that one-piece work comes from working from samples.
“Our motto is no matter how badly damaged, worn, broken, cut in half, teeth all the way off, whatever, we can reverse engineer it and make you a new one.” Emerson said. “And we’ve always done emergency service work. That goes back to my working with the Big Three. We’d work all night and do whatever we had to do.”
American Gear has a loyal customer base that, in turn, allows the company to give back that loyalty, according to Emerson, and a lot of that boils down to the simple direct way it approaches customers’ needs when American Gear is asked to perform a job.
“We give them a price,” he said. “If a shop wants one gear, we give them a price for one gear. That’s what we do.”
Right Equipment for the Job
And the equipment American Gear uses allows it to be fast and competitive, Emerson said.
“All our turning and milling is done on state-of-the-art Mazak CNC machines,” he said. “So, I think in that area, we can be as competitive as anybody in the industry, if not more. In gear cutting, all our employees run four and five machines each, so we can be very competitively priced. And we’re good at running one-piece jobs. We’ve got some gear cutting equipment that is late ’50s, early ’60s vintage that’s very flexible. And it allows us to go from one type of gear to another type of gear without really much effort in changing setups. And I’ve got an extremely highly skilled staff that’s very good at knocking out one piece on a mill or one piece on a CNC lathe.”
That efficiency helps get those newly created gears to the customer quickly, according to Emerson.
“Our standard delivery on most jobs is about five weeks,” he said. “But a lot of times we can turn things around in a day, two days. We turn some large parts. We just made a couple of gears that were 98 inches in diameter, 14 inches of face, 1 DP, the blanks weighed 11,000 pounds. We made them from scratch, and we turned two of them around in nine to 10 weeks. I think that’s pretty good.”
Adding More Equipment
Looking to the future, Emerson said he hopes to add extra equipment to make American Gear even more competitive and efficient.
“We’re constantly trying to upgrade equipment,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of money in the last couple of years rebuilding a lot of our ID/OD grinding equipment. We’re looking forward to buying, sometime in the near future, a very large CNC lathe, something with a 40-inch chuck. We want to get away from our big manual lathes to something CNC. In the last three to four years, we’ve bought new hobbers — a lot of late ’70s vintage equipment with automatic two-cut cycles. And we bought a couple of P630s and a couple of P900s.”
The industry has seen its ups and downs through the years, and Emerson said American Gear has weathered the good and the bad and expects to keep going strong as he brings in and trains the next generation of gear machinists.
Part of that challenge is the lack of machine experience that exists in the younger workforce.
“I’m working extra hard to make sure we’ve got that next group of employees trained,” Emerson said. “I’ve got a great nucleus of employees who are late 40s, up to mid-50s, and I’ve got a few employees here in their 70s still working here, so we don’t turn our back. We don’t chase anyone out of here. I encourage the older employees to stay on part time”
That mixing of the older experts and the younger novices creates a well-rounded workforce for American Gear that manifests itself in the work it provides for its customers.
“We don’t want that knowledge just walking out the door,” Emerson said. “I encourage that, and I make it worthwhile for the employees to come in and do that, and they’re a huge help. They help train the young employees; they’ve got knowledge of jobs that repeat over and over again. We do a tremendous amount of work for the same people, and that assistance is invaluable.”
Since Emerson began American Gear from scratch with his former partner, Louis Cingolani, more than 30 years ago, he said the company has come a long way, and he hopes it continues long after he’s gone.
But no matter how big American Gear gets, Emerson said it will always, ultimately, be about the customer.
“That’s one thing my old partner used to tell me: ‘Think how awful it’d be if you needed help and no one could help you,’” he said. “You can’t be like that; you’ve always got to find a way to help people. So, we always try to find a way to do the jobs.”
For more information: americangear.net