Even with a history that stretches across more than a century, it’s been an important part of the success of Gear Motions to continue to keep a solid eye on the future.
“Our evolution has been dramatic at times and incremental at other times,” said Dean Burrows, president and CEO of Gear Motions. “We were one of the first U.S. companies to embrace precision gear grinding. We have and continue to invest in technology to provide a competitive edge. As our customers’ needs have changed, so have we. We specialize now more in smaller quantities but a high mix of part numbers. Few companies can master this complexity, but we have. With the transition to electric vehicles and non-geared power transmission, we will continue to adapt to meet this every changing landscape.”
But that evolution doesn’t mean that Gear Motions loses sight of its roots, according to Burrows.
“We do a lot of work in specialty automotive,” he said. “We always say, ‘If you’ve got an old Harley Davidson motorcycle, we make all the spare parts for every Harley Davidson motorcycle going back to 1930s.”
Manufacturing a wide range of gears
However, supplying specialty products to the automotive industry is just the beginning.
Gear Motions supplies custom cut and ground gears for OEMs all around the world, and the company can manufacture all types of custom gears — cut or precision ground. These products include precision ground helical gears, spur gears, pump gears, bevel gears, and worm gears, as well as multiple types of sprockets, timing pulleys, shafts, and splines.
“We do a lot of superchargers for high-end aftermarket applications,” Burrows said. “We do pump gears. We do a lot for the mining side of the industry. We don’t do a lot of military/aerospace, but we’ll do a little bit. Most of our products are precision, and we do a lot of ultra-precision. But 90 to 95 percent of what we do is precision ground gearing.”
Although Gear Motions, itself, was founded in 1973, it has since acquired multiple companies that have extended its overall expertise, as well as its history.
“Gear Motions has been a leading gear manufacturer through many generations,” Burrows said. “Oliver Gear was founded in 1892 and is considered one of the oldest continually operating gear companies in North America. Nixon Gear celebrated its 100-year anniversary on November 17, 2020. Niagara Gear has been in business since the 1940s. This longevity has solved many customer challenges and has given Gear Motions a strong reputation for problem solving complex design and manufacturing issues. Along with supporting the gear industry with quality American-made products, it has helped the American Gear Manufacturers Association by sharing its time, talent, and treasure. Through working on numerous committees, supporting capital campaigns, and leadership on the Board of Directors, AGMA and Gear Motions have been partners for almost 50 years. Both myself and (founder) Sam Haines have served as chairman for the Association. I currently am chair of the AGMA Foundation. Besides these leadership roles, our team members have been actively involved in many AGMA committees, including technical committees. We exhibited at the MPT Expo in 2019 and will again in 2021.”
Strong customer base
A huge part of that success is being able to have solid customer base that come back to Gear Motions over and over again, according to Burrows.
“Many of our customers have been with us since the 1960s,” he said. “As their businesses have changed, we have grown and evolved with them as well. We’re not a big company on publicly celebrating our accomplishments. We know our accomplishments are when our customers thank us for going above and beyond, when they continue to do business with us for 50 years — that’s an accomplishment. It’s not a plaque on the wall, but it’s a statement of how well we do to run our business.”
Creating a solid portfolio
Gear Motions was founded in 1973 by Samuel T. Haines. After purchasing Rawling Gear in the 1960s, the 10-man company served a local New England market for custom gear products. The company grew, renovated, and enlarged its facility, and began to look for new opportunities. Gear Motions was incorporated shortly after that. After joining the business, Samuel R. Haines’ vision was to develop a regional network of companies whose unique specialties could be leveraged to better serve the wide-ranging needs of customers. The newly formed organization brought the management, marketing, and financial strengths of a larger size company while maintaining the unique service aspects of smaller regional shops.
Gear Motions’ first acquisition was Oliver Gear, based in Buffalo, New York. Five years later, Nixon Gear was purchased out of bankruptcy. It was also about this time that Gear Motions began its sales and marketing activities in earnest, developing a national sales force providing coverage from the East Coast to Texas. In the early 1980s, the Plastic Gearing Services Division was created to provide design and development of high strength plastics gearing for the emerging business machine market. In 1988, Gear Motions acquired Gear Supply and Broaching, a California gear-manufacturing company. During the 1990s and early 2000s, these businesses were either consolidated into existing facilities or sold.
In 2005, Gear Motions transitioned from a privately held company to an Employee Owned Company (ESOP). President Samuel R. Haines’, and the Haines family, plan was to begin a 10-year ownership transition to assure the companies in Gear Motions remained in the communities that supported them during their history.
In 2012, Gear Motions acquired Pro-Gear Co. Inc., a gear-grind-only manufacturer in Buffalo, New York. This acquisition allowed Gear Motions to add more capability to its group of precision gear manufacturers that seek gear-grind-only capabilities. That same year, Gear Motions partnered with KBE+, a design and engineering firm specializing in the design, analysis, and test services for gear systems and mechanical transmissions.
In 2020, Gear Motions and KBE+ formed Kinatech, which introduced a revolutionary, newly-patented product to the market. First introduced at the 2019 Motion and Power Technology Expo, the product provides an industry shifting approach to mechanical braking and positioning.
Working with customers
Gear Motions’ decades-long chess game of business modeling is a large part of the company’s success, and it is paramount to how Gear Motions has worked closely with its customers in order to meet any challenge that gets thrown its way, according to Burrows.
“I know this will sound very cliché, but we first try to understand their pain,” he said. “What problem are they truly trying to solve? Is it a product performance issue, a supply chain challenge, or a new product design? Many times, this discussion reveals numerous items of concern they have and others that they didn’t know they have. We have become industry known for the depth of expertise from our engineering team. We have hundreds of years of gear-manufacturing design, process, production, and failure analysis. We very rarely ever encounter a problem we can’t solve, and if we do, we have a great industry network to tap into for expertise.”
That is an interesting philosophy for a company to take, but Burrows said, above all else, it’s important that the industry as a whole succeeds.
“When each one of us succeeds, we all succeed,” he said. “Our doors are always open to any gear manufacturer. Competitors or not, we know if we can make someone else’s business better or they can make ours better, the industry gets stronger. We believe in collaboration and partnerships. We are proud of what we do, but we also know we can always be better.”
Burrows is also proud of a staff that has a staying power that few companies can match.
“From an employee-owned standpoint, we have a lot of longevity in our team,” he said. “I would say about 35 to 40 percent of our employees have seniority over 25 years. We have probably five employees with over 40 years. And we’ve had employees who have spent 65 years with us, which, I think was our highest seniority at one point when he retired.”
As the industry moves to address innovations such as electric cars and other similar technologies, Burrows said the trends will move toward creating full-system solutions for Gear Motions’ customers.
“Just don’t provide me a gear; provide me the gearbox; don’t just provide me with a gear, give me a shaft gear-bearing retainer assembly,” he said. “That has a lot of our customers looking at their staff, and, with fewer people, they want to buy one part number that has 17 components, where before they would buy 18 components and assemble that in-house. They’re looking for more of that, and they’re also looking for the suppliers to be technical experts, because they don’t have the gear engineers that they used to have. They don’t have the in-house technical expertise that they used to have. And they rely more on their suppliers to have that expertise.”
That makes companies such as Gear Motions invaluable in a market where manufacturers look to outsource their components, according to Burrows.
“That’s where companies like us do very well, because we have a very, very strong bench of experienced engineers where customers come to us and say, ‘I’ve got this problem; I have this situation,’” he said. “They may have had that expertise in-house years ago, but now, they no longer do, so they have to go to companies like us to help them solve their problems. There’s not a lot of companies who have that ability, and that helps us stand out against our competitors.”
Preparing for a changing industry
And that level of expertise is going to be even more important as the industry makes a dramatic transformation over the next decade or two, according to Burrows.
“I do not see the day when there will be no need for gears, but I see that the need will be less and less,” he said. “With the shift to electric vehicles, there will be fewer automotive gears. Different technologies will replace what gears currently do. Gearing will become more specialized, and the needs more niche.”
With that specialization will come the need for better and more engineering expertise, according to Burrows.
“From a Gear Motions perspective, our strategic roadmap leads us into more closed gearing and away from being mostly an open gear manufacturer,” he said. “Customers are needing more turn-key solutions. They are seeking less complexity and ease of doing business. We are positioned to tap into this trend. We are also going to be introducing our own set of products into the market. This will continue to transition from an open gear manufacturer to a closed gear one.”
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