Getting into gears: The difficulty of becoming a gear engineer with a standard educational path

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A month ago, I sat down with Mark Frost, a master’s student studying robotics and automation at Oregon State University and the individual responsible for the SAE Beaver Racing team becoming an AGMA member. We were discussing the team’s upcoming races, strategy for marketing the team’s efforts, and similar topics, when a benign question led to a rabbit hole: “Why did you want to become a member of AGMA?”

Mark provided a thoughtful and thorough answer, which I will summarize: Traditional engineering curriculum is broad and may spend only a single week’s worth of courses — roughly three hours of in-class time in the U.S. university system — on only the most basic of gear concepts. Mark went on to describe his experience building a Baja racing vehicle the previous year, highlighting how he and his fellow engineering students found themselves unable to adequately tell their sponsors the specifications of what they needed. In conversations with their sponsors and gear shops, the team constantly heard about specific AGMA and ISO standards, ones they didn’t have access to and were never told about over the course of their studies. This actively impeded their ability to complete their project. After becoming an AGMA member, Mark and his colleagues now had access to the needed standard and repository of free on-demand courses that AGMA offers. As such, their work and progress on this year’s Baja vehicle was, by his admission, much smoother.

This sentiment — lacking easily accessible education to get into the gear industry — was repeated at the recent 2024 AGMA Strategic Networking & Leadership Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on May 2 by the event’s keynote speaker, Andrew Crowe. Drew, as he likes to be called, is the founder of The New American Manufacturing Renaissance, an initiative Drew started to educate both young and marginalized audiences about the benefits of a career in manufacturing.

Awareness, training, and education specific to a given manufacturing field are integral to success in that field, and that is true in particular with gear manufacturing.

Over the course of his presentation, Drew recounted his experience of living in poverty, becoming a teen father, being incarcerated, and trying to rebuild his life afterwards. Drew told us his story, how he needed more money than minimum to support himself, his family, and his legal obligations. After some searching, he walked into a machine shop that had two openings: one for sweeping the shop floor and the other for operating machinery. The operator position paid more but required training … training that Drew didn’t have. So, he swept the floors and learned about the machinery, what they made, how they worked, how to operate them, how to make them work more efficiently. His career trajectory blossomed from there.

There was a lot of wisdom about workforce development that Drew imparted at the event, but the most relevant part to this article is how awareness, training, and education specific to a given manufacturing field are integral to success in that field.

How do we solve this problem? That’s a big question without a widescale, easily implementable solution, but we have to start somewhere. The AGMA Foundation, which funds training, education initiatives, webinars, and more for the gear industry, has a Get Into Gears toolkit — available at agmafoundation.org/getintogears. It gives gear manufacturers free resources to recruit and train workers. As mentioned previously, AGMA has numerous resources for members and nonmembers alike, including webinars, training for in-demand gear industry skills, and networking events. Interested parties can learn more about AGMA resources and membership at agma.org/membership.

Upcoming Event

AGMA Curated Tour at 2024 RAPID+TCT Show
June 26 | Los Angeles, California.

Join AGMA for a curated tour on the RAPID show floor, talking with those in the 3D-printing industry. This will be AGMA’s fourth time providing a tour – specific for individuals in the gear industry.

AGMA is actively engaging with exhibitors to have 14 stops on our tour where you will learn about many different types of printers and materials currently in use in metal 3D printing. Exhibitors will speak directly to the gear-industry audience with targeted information. SME is providing AGMA attendees with a free pass for the show floor ($125 cost). Attendees will also get lunch during a post-tour debrief.

Upcoming Webinar

5 Ways to Reduce Risk of an Organization Being Hacked
June 20 | 1 p.m. ET | Webinar

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, the threat of cyber-attacks looms larger than ever before. As malicious actors continuously refine their strategies, businesses of all sizes find themselves at an increased risk of being compromised. “5 Ways Your Company can Reduce the Risk of Being Hacked” delves into strategies that organizations can implement to bolster their cybersecurity posture. This presentation navigates the complex cyber threat environment, offering a blend of technical solutions and cultural shifts designed to mitigate risks. By focusing on security awareness training, phishing simulations, incident response plans complemented with table top exercises, effective patching procedures, and fostering an enhanced security culture, this session aims to guide IT professionals, cybersecurity practitioners, C-Suite executives, and board members toward creating a more secure digital ecosystem for their organizations.

Upcoming Education

Involute Spline Design and Rating
June 17-18 | Live Online Course

This course will address both geometry and rating of involute splines of various types. The types of spline joints and their applications will be discussed. Spline configuration variations, including half depth, full depth, and special function designs, will be addressed. Both fixed and flexible spline configurations will be examined in terms of usage and design. Lubrication methods, including grease, oil bath, and flowing oil, as well as coatings appropriate for various spline applications, are examined. Shear and compressive stress rating methods are discussed with analyses methodology presented in both equation and graphical methodology via various rating charts.

Fundamentals of Gear Design and Analysis
June 25-27 | Rosemont, Illinois

Gain a solid and fundamental understanding of gear geometry, types and arrangements, and basic design principles. Starting with the basic definitions of gears, conjugate motion, and the Laws of Gearing, learn the tools needed to understand the inter-relation and coordinated motion operating within gear pairs and multi-gear trains. Basic gear system design process, gear measurement and inspection techniques will also be explained. In addition, the fundamentals of understanding the stepwise process of working through the iterative design process required to generate a gear pair will be reviewed. Learn the steps and issues involved in design refinement and some manufacturing considerations. An explanation of basic gear measurement techniques, how measurement equipment and test machines implement these techniques, and how to interpret the results from these basic measurements will also be covered.

For a full list of the 2024 courses, please visit: agma.org/events-education/upcoming-courses/.

Calendar of Events

June 17-18 — Involute Spline Design & Rating — Live Online Course

June 20 — Aerospace Committee — Webex

June 20 — 5 Ways to Reduce Risk of an Organization Being Hacked — Webinar

June 24-26 — Helical Enclosed Drives High Speed Units Committee — Hartford, Connecticut

June 25 — Worm Gearing Committee — Webex

June 25-27 — Fundamentals of Gear Design & Analysis — Rosemont, Illinois

June 27 — Electric Vehicle Drive Committee — Zoom

July 11 — Robotics and Automation Committee — Zoom

July 24-25 — Operator Precision Gear Grinding — Live Online Course

July 29-30 — Technical Division Executive Committee — Webex

July 30 – August 1 — Bevel Gear Systems Design – Week 1 — Live Online Course

August 6-8 — Bevel Gear Systems Design – Week 2 — Live Online Course

August 6-8 — Gear Heat Treatment Operator and Operations — Cleveland, Ohio

August 12-13 — Operator Hobbing and Shaper Cutting — Chicago, Illinois

August 14-15 — Basic Gear Inspection for Operators — Chicago, Illinois

August 14-15 — Reverse Engineering — Live Online Course