When David E. Ross and his associates incorporated Fairfield Manufacturing Company as an offshoot of their existing company in November of 1919, what they couldn’t foresee was that their little venture would eventually become a world-class producer of gears and power transmission products. The Ross family had founded Ross Gear and Tool Company in 1906, in Lafayette, Indiana, to manufacture steering gears and produce differential gears and related axle components. After World War I, the steering gear business experienced rapid growth and the family decided to concentrate on that area and spin off the differential gearing and axle products as a separate business. At that time, the focus of this new spin-off company was manufacturing parts for motor vehicles.
From its modest beginnings in an old bridgeworks building, the company now occupies more than 600,000 square feet under one roof on the south side of Lafayette and employs approximately 1,000 people. Inside this massive manufacturing mall, a full host of capabilities are present, including a wide range of gear cutting capabilities, complete gear finishing and grinding (including grinding for special high-speed gear applications), as well as more than 70,000 square feet devoted to heat treating.
According to George Taylor, director of custom gear sales, “Fairfield offers the broadest capabilities in the industry found under one roof.” In addition to spur, bevel, Zerol hypoid and many other types of gears and shafts, Fairfield provides custom drive assemblies that are engineered to the specific drive application.
Taylor further states that Fairfield is one of the few gear manufacturers left in the marketplace with complete “design and build” capabilities. This ability can be extremely valuable to the OEM by eliminating the need to devote their resources and time on “in-house” design, or to spend money for design consultation and assembly of a complete drive unit. Instead, the OEM can focus its efforts on the end machine as a whole, rather than on one specific component.
“We can also help customers who have gearboxes that are not manufactured by Fairfield,” Taylor says, “especially in cases where the customer may come to us for fixes because the original gearbox manufacturer doesn’t have the capabilities. We can fix a design, and at the same time offer the customer savings through a more efficient design.”
At the center of Fairfield’s ability to provide a custom designed and assembled drive solution is its strong engineering capabilities and expertise. Taylor says that “our excellent engineering capability also allows us to be quick to market from concept, to prototype, to production–and much faster than if the customer had to do the design and assembly in their own organization.”
Over the decades, Fairfield engineers have been involved in a broad range of gear design work, ranging from oceangoing ship propulsion to helicopter drives. “Our real niche tends to be high power density gearing found in heavy machinery used in the mining and construction industries,” says Jim Dammon, vice president of engineering. “The work typically begins with a meeting between our engineering group and that of the customer, along with marketing and sales personnel to set the specifications. Fairfield’s design team then produces one or more engineered concepts that meet the specifications. These concepts can be simple 2-D drawings or as complex as fully animated solid models. They are completed very quickly, usually in a few days, and then they are typically reviewed by the customer, who notes any changes or modifications needed.”
The process continues through a second concept phase, Dammon continues, incorporating the customer’s changes, and it is then completed once everyone involved is satisfied that the final design presents the “optimum solution.” The project then moves into the calculations and detail design work phase, to insure that proper life, performance, and functionality requirements are achieved. All gearing is designed utilizing Fairfield’s Gear Design Software program, which has become an industry standard over the years. This software is available to the public and can also be downloaded from Fairfield’s Web site. In addition to gear design software, Fairfield utilizes FEM analysis methods for structural components, including gear teeth and other critical areas where deflection can have a significant impact on component stress.
When the design is finished and the dimensional analysis is completed on the assembly, individual parts are then detailed. A final detail design review is held with the customer’s engineering group. Final changes and corrections are then made, and the customer’s drawing border added to the finish prints, which become his property.
After prototype production, the Fairfield design engineering group can either provide or assist with lab and field testing. Often, for specific custom-designed projects, the customer does the physical testing with Fairfield’s engineers assisting, collecting, and interpreting the test data. Taylor emphasizes that “a very valuable aspect of working with Fairfield is our engineering support after the product has been designed and goes into production,” he says. “We have the ability to support, test, and tweak the design if problems arise that were not considered or known in the initial design phase. We’re in there with the customer for the long haul.”
Fairfield places a great deal of emphasis on its engineering and technical capabilities. With technology continually advancing in heavy machinery and equipment, the need for engineering know-how is paramount. Fairfield’s philosophy is based on the premise that it is not enough to offer the market innovative designs. The company must also be able to solve problems and provide effective solutions. Dammon recalls an example involving a heavy rail machine, where the weight of the machine caused the axle to bend and tilt the gear that was mounted on it. In addition, the driving torque caused the pinion to try to climb around the gear as it operated, and there was a separating force that caused the cantilevered pinion to bend away from the gear mesh on its free end.
Fairfield’s investigation indicated that the teeth of the gear should have a normal crown of 0.002 per side, but the pinion required almost 0.009 lead modification on one side and a straight tooth on the other. With these modifications, surface compressive stress on the tooth stayed about the same, with loads ranging from as low as 25 percent and up to 125 percent of rating. From a non-technical standpoint, the problem is solved.
With the ability to produce gears ranging from one inch to over 60 inches in diameter, Fairfield can provide complete drive assemblies, and in a broad range as well. They range in output torque capability from as low as 5,000 to over 4 million inch-lbs. “We’ve designed and built custom drives for applications from small medical laboratory machines to huge Alaskan oil drilling rigs with tires twice the size of a grown man,” says John Strickland, director of marketing and product development. “Not only does this stand as proof of our broad range of manufacturing abilities, it’s also evidence of our ability to understand a wide range of technical application requirements.”
Fairfield also works with suppliers of complimentary products such as hydraulic motors, electric motors, valves, clutches, and related mechanical components. According to Strickland, “this enables Fairfield to collaborate with providers of other drive components and provide complete drive systems instead of gears alone,” he says. “Our ability to focus on integrating motors, clutches, valves, and similar components helps reduce our customers’ vendor base, providing them with a much more cost- and performance-effective design, and allowing us to know more about the drive system as a whole. This translates to extended life and better component service for the OEM.”
While Fairfield is clearly an engineering-driven company, it rates highly in other areas as well, such as quality and safety. Fairfield is ISO 9001 and QS 9000 certified at its Lafayette facility, and their plant in Belgaum, India, is ISO 9001. As Strickland points out, “We acquired our Atlas-India facility in October of 2000, so developing that facility into a “mini Fairfield” was the key goal, and developing the quality standards and certifications were integral to the plan,” he says. “Today we’re working with a number of well-known OEM machinery producers with plants and facilities in India.”
In addition to manufacturing in India and selling Fairfield gear and drive products worldwide, the company utilizes global source initiatives as a common practice. “We have people traveling around the world at any given time seeking out well-engineered, high-quality, cost-effective components and materials,” says Strickland. “Today engineering has a very broad meaning, covering design engineering, cost engineering, quality engineering, and so on. Not only must we provide innovative customer drive assemblies, we must make them competitively and be positioned to provide support to all corners of the globe.”
Fairfield utilizes its extensive global distribution network not only for its well-known Torque-Hub® line of planetary gear reducers, but also for custom gear and assembly capabilities. “We have distributors located throughout North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and even in Hawaii,” Strickland says. “We are well positioned to offer support and assistance in the field almost anywhere. Most companies produce either custom gears or a gear reducer product line, but few produce and provide both within the same company. We are one exception, and this somewhat unique dual ability allows us to offer custom designed and built assemblies for specific applications and needs, and to follow that up with full service and field support capabilities that you rarely find with custom solutions.”
The company recently updated its Web site to include a thorough overview of its capabilities, products, and services. Product literature and gear design software can also be downloaded, and there is an online “request for quote” form that is accessible from several of the “custom gear and assemblies” sections of the site.
Regardless of whether it requires a loose custom gear, a custom designed assembly for a specific application, or a customized product, Fairfield has built its reputation on innovative solutions utilizing a strong engineering approach. Fairfield gears and drives can be found in a broad range of applications, including marine, mining, forestry, automotive, rail, and general construction, agricultural, and in-plant industrial machinery. In addition to custom design and build capabilities, the company offers programs to OEMs that include contract manufacturing and machining, special projects such as “heat treat only,” and special grinding and finishing work, as well as developing the ability to fulfill rapid response/quick turnaround gears and shafts.
Back on that day in 1919, nearly a century ago, it’s doubtful that David E. Ross could possibly have imagined that his small company would someday provide such a wide range of industry offerings and solutions. This is one spin off that has certainly paid off.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Bratthauar is marketing coordinator for Fairfield Manufacturing. He can be reached at 765-772-4579 or via e-mail at email@example.com. Online go to www.fairfieldmfg.com.