Atlanta Gear Works set out in the beginning to do one thing and do it well: gearbox repair.
But when the quality of the available components needed for their repairs wasn’t up to the company’s standards, Atlanta Gear Works decided to expand.
“Originally, we just wanted to do gearbox repairs,” said Jack Conway, president of Atlanta Gear Works. “We didn’t intend to actually manufacture anything. But we kept finding it harder and harder to find qualified gear suppliers that would deliver exactly what we wanted when we needed it. So, we wound up doing some machining, and then we added gearing and gear grinding. Today, we continue to add services to better serve our customers.”
That desire for the best quality continues to drive Atlanta Gear Works.
“We repair process-critical gearboxes for large industrial companies,” Conway said. “We service customers that have a requirement for very high quality, and these are the customers that we can serve best. We also manufacture gearing. Even there, in gearing, we look for customers that demand very high quality in gears.”
Those gears are typically low-volume, custom-designed pieces, according to Conway.
“We can make a gear from a sample or a customer-supplied print or design it from scratch to solve a particular problem,” he said. “We have a very skilled engineering department that enables us to reverse engineer every part we touch, basically.”
In addition to gear manufacturing and gearbox repair, Atlanta Gear Works also does field services and field machining, which means in-place gearbox rebuilds, replacement, inspections, and in-place machining, according to Craig Massa, vice president of sales for Atlanta Gear Works.
“We solve our customers’ problems,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what that problem is. In gearboxes, it’s about delivering a high-quality product that’s been engineered and assembled correctly every time. We document all of our processes; we measure everything that we do. We do that so we can deliver a product to a customer that’s reliable, and they know it’s going to work when they put it in.”
Atlanta Gear Works achieves this by investing in its people, plant, and processes, according to Conway, investing in state-of-the-art equipment and ongoing training for everyone.
“We do whatever it takes to keep our customers up and running,” he said. “We’re continually investing to add services so that we can bring the manufacturing in-house, where we have control over it and can maintain the quality level.”
It’s a process that Atlanta Gear Works takes seriously, especially when a customer approaches the company with a challenge.
“We usually get the problem-child gearbox — the one that they’ve had continuous failures on,” Massa said. “Our process is there’s no charge for us to go through a gearbox. If a customer sends it to us, we completely disassemble, inspect it, and develop a thorough inspection report and a failure analysis where we can pinpoint the problem. Then we do a detailed engineering review of the system or the process. We present the scope of what we find, any upgrades or modifications that we would recommend to improve the reliability of the gearbox — or the gear if it’s just the gear that we’re manufacturing. Then, from there, we execute what we quoted.”
That process involves making recommendations to the customer about what caused the failure, along with any recommended upgrades to make the gearbox more reliable, according to Massa. But it doesn’t stop there. Atlanta Gear Works will find out the complete history of the gearbox, which includes past failure modes. After that, the company develops a detailed engineering drawing of all the components. The staff engineers will then vet it before the needed parts are produced.
“One of the things that sets us apart from other gear companies is we can work on any gearbox — any make, any model, anytime, anywhere,” Conway said. “We’ll do it here, or we’ll do it at your plant. We’ll do what it takes to get our customer back up and running.”
With gearboxes in need of repair coming from a variety of sources, Massa said Atlanta Gear Works makes sure the equipment gets a thorough inspection.
“One thing that we tell our technicians is that we don’t know who’s rebuilt the gearbox before,” he said. “It may have been an OEM, or it could’ve been another repair shop. But we certainly don’t want to repeat anyone’s mistakes. That’s why we go over it with a fine-tooth comb and do the detailed engineering review. Anything that doesn’t look right probably isn’t right.”
Not only can Atlanta Gear Works get any job done, but it also has the ability to react quickly to a customer’s needs, especially if it’s an emergency situation, according to Carol Niemi, PR/marketing consultant for Atlanta Gear Works.
“When they send a field services team out to a customer’s site, every one of them brings a packed backpack and is prepared to stay there till the job is done — even for days on end,” she said. “They can turn a job around a lot faster because they have that kind of team in the field.”
Flexibility is key
That unknown quantity when dealing with a customer’s problem is what makes Atlanta Gear Works’ flexibility so important, according to Conway.
“We don’t know what we’re going to find when somebody’s in the middle of a breakdown,” he said. “When our crews go out to a customer’s plant, we’ll do the initial evaluation to help diagnose the situation, consult with the plant, and give them our assessment of what we think should happen. Once we agree on a plan, we might bring in additional crews to work around the clock there as well as around the clock here at our facility to manufacture the parts they need to get back up and running.”
That includes having field-service trucks that are fully staffed and stocked with equipment that can react at a moment’s notice, according to Conway.
“Most times, service calls are planned, but it’s not unusual to get a call on a Friday night about 6 o’clock that a plant’s down or needs something quickly,” Massa said.
But Massa said even planned service calls can sometimes morph into much more.
“We had one not too long ago with a big steel company where our guys walked in with planned scope of work to replace some high-speed pinion bearings,” he said. “The job was supposed to be just one day, but after our crew started the job, we found several more problems that needed to be addressed. The job ended up lasting seven days, around the clock, including manufacturing new gears and repairing several shafts. The parts came back here to be reverse engineered and remade, and we sent our field machining crew to re-machine the housing in place.”
But even with the expanded work time, Massa said the mill didn’t lose any downtime, and Atlanta Gear Works prevented an even bigger problem from striking in the future.
Advancing with the industry
As the gear industry has advanced, Atlanta Gear Works has strived to advance along with it, according to Conway.
“We’ve added gear grinding to our product offering,” he said. “We just put in some CNC gear-cutting equipment. All of the investment has just allowed us to produce a better-quality part in a shorter amount of time. That’s what our customers want.”
And Conway said he expects his company’s expertise to continue to be a needed commodity in the gear world.
“We’ll always have a place as a repair and rebuild facility,” he said. “The manufacturing equipment we’re using today is much different than what it will be in the future. The innovation in new machinery is fascinating, but if you can’t engineer the gear, you’re still not going to be able to produce one that will meet the customers’ needs.”
Obviously, Conway sees engineering as one of the keys to Atlanta Gear Works’ continued success.
“Our engineering team is led by Chris Dale,” he said. “They do an amazing job because he insists that everyone on his team knows how to perform repairs and manufacture parts. They also continue to go to classes, and we invest in training software, whether it’s an auto CAD program, a CAM program in the shop. or a design program for gearing. We have to stay on top of what’s happening in the industry in order to be relevant and to continue to serve our customers.”