Making a gear can be delicate work, so it’s important that manufacturers have the proper equipment and have access to the best services in order to push their manufacturing decisions in the proper direction. One factor that drives those decisions is data.
Assisting manufacturers with obtaining that data and more is what Penta Gear Metrology has been doing for years.
“I’ve always tried to find a good solution for a customer,” said Marvin Nicholson, president of Penta Gear. “In manufacturing today, the challenge is a lot different than it was 20 years ago. Data is important. Time is important. An engineer today is going to multitask many other processes; 20 years ago, an engineer would have a specific job, and he would just do that job. Today, they have to work a lot smarter and a lot more, and it’s more data driven than in the past.”
Making gears better
Penta Gear Metrology offers analytical machines, metrology services, functional gauges, functional inspection, and more.
“We offer analytical equipment; we offer functional equipment, roll testers, and size gauges on the floor,” Nicholson said. “We also offer contract inspection for people who don’t have analytical machines. They can send us their gears, and we’ll measure them. We also offer software support.”
Penta Gear manufactures gauges, as well as all its products, in house, while providing software support and enhancements, according to Nicholson.
“By working with our team here, it allows us to assemble these gauges and work on the next generation gauges and development, as well as just providing a solid work environment for our employees,” he said. “To that end, offering customers a solution to whatever manufacturing challenges they have has always been my goal no matter what we’re doing.”
Step 1: Understanding
The road to getting customers to the solutions they need first starts with understanding what those customers are doing, according to Nicholson.
“In understanding what they’re doing, that helps us answer questions like: Are they doing something out of the norm that is not necessarily helping their cause?” he said. “And then we offer them a solution — and sometimes it’s not our products. We want to offer them the best solution for their situation, no matter what.”
As an example, Nicholson said that if a customer is just cutting gears and has no need for grinding, then high precision is not a requirement.
“He probably doesn’t need a $250,000 gear inspection machine, but he may need other tools to inspect those gears,” he said. “That’s a typical example of what we look at. It’s not just saying, ‘This is our product; take it or leave it.’ I really like to understand what they’re doing and how we can offer them some assistance. And it may not be something we have; it may be something simpler than what we offer, because not everybody needs to drive a rocket ship. A lot of people just want to produce their gears. And not everybody is producing aerospace gears. They just want a logical way to ensure their process is controlled.”
Making systems more reliable
By offering the most logical solutions to its customers’ challenges, Penta Gear is always in search of ways to make its measuring systems more reliable, whether that’s on the shop floor or in a gear lab, according to Nicholson.
“The new machines we are designing and producing today are incredibly more advanced than what we’ve done in the past,” he said. “That’s part of one of our goals, which is to challenge our competitors to raise the bar — technology wise. We’ve integrated Force Gages into all of our measurement technologies from the functional side. That ensures I’m measuring the part at the same pressure, because — whether it’s a small part or whether it’s a big part — pressure is critical to that measurement. I could distort the measurement if I push too hard, or if I crush the gears together.”
Enhanced Digital Readout
A prime example of how Penta Gear has pushed its technology to the next level is the company’s development of the EDRO or Enhanced Digital Readout, according to Nicholson. The EDRO is a web-based digital readout that can plug into a manufacturer’s network. This device can be used with a customer’s current browser, so there’s no need for special software.
“There’s no hard drive, so typically, there’s not a failure point,” he said. “It’s in a sealed box, so you don’t have to worry about a computer, which has to be ventilated or temperature controlled.”
Since there isn’t an overlay for buttons and other wear points, the life cycle of the product increases to a point where it has the potential to last for decades, according to Nicholson.
“When you look at the actual function and construction of the gauge, it was pretty innovative — especially when you consider we introduced the product in 1999,” he said.
With that product alone, Penta Gear has been at the forefront of offering products that fit right in with the advent of Industry 4.0.
“I’ve always believed that the guy with the most data wins,” Nicholson said. “When you walk into a meeting where they’re trying to analyze what happened, we want to be able to hand them a stack of data of what we’ve collected. We want to be able to support — both historically and moving forward — what we’re doing so we can better control our process.”
But Penta Gear’s penchant for innovation doesn’t stop there. Surprisingly, the software that runs the company’s machines is Windows-based, according to Nicholson, and it has been since the beginning.
“Our software from Day 1 was Windows,” he said. “It was never a secondary package that was written in Rocky Mountain Basic or any type of older languages.”
With most of Penta Gear’s competitors starting in the 1980s, HP had its own language, which was Rocky Mountain Basic. And even though that language and other older languages are still being used, Rocky Mountain Basic is not a language that is supported on computers, so an emulator is needed, according to Nicholson.
“And that is fine; there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a perfectly solid environment,” he said. “But as we move to different platforms, and as we look at data control, Penta Gear also has developed our own 5-axis controller. With our 5-axis controller, the C5, we actually read all the axis positions in a time-based environment, so we’re collecting data much faster and much more reliably. Our synchronization between all the axes on the machine — the 3-axis in the probe, the 4-axis in the machine, the rotary table — all that is integrated, so we’re getting real-time information.”
That allows Penta Gear to interface with a PC in a USB format. Today, the company is using Windows 11-64 bit, but five years from now, Nicholson said he could see the industry moving to Windows 128 bit, because speed is essential.
“If our computer dies on our current machine, you can go to Staples, and you can buy a new computer, install our software, put all the data back on and run a part,” he said. “As a customer, you don’t need a special computer. We don’t have special cards in the computer. All that data is done offline. If you look at the older systems, they have to have data-acquisition cards in the computer. They have to talk to printers with an HPGL format. We have a Windows environment. I can print it to a network printer. I can print to a local printer. I can handle network information.”
Beginning in 2005
Nicholson started Penta Gear Metrology in 2005 rebuilding functional gauges, double flanks, and DOBs. Nicholson first developed a unique digital readout that was web-based. Later, he developed a double flank and a DOB gauge that didn’t require any physical movement to engage the probe into the part. With five basic products that, in Nicholson’s mind, made up the sides of a pentagon, the name Penta Gear was born.
In 2012, Penta Gear integrated its products with a company called Process Equipment, which made analytical gear inspection machines. Two years later, Nicholson said he bought his products back from Process Equipment, along with that company’s gear division. In 2015, Penta Gear was bought into by KAPP NILES Technology.
“That offered us a new direction as far as offering new machines,” he said. “We also do something unique that no one’s really done as a manufacturer: We rebuild our competitors’ machines. So, if you have an older Gleason machine, we can rebuild that. And when you get it back, it’s running our software, our drives, our controls, and it extends the life of the machine. And you’re talking a $100,000 to $150,000 savings.”
Helping customers move into the future
By being able to rebuild and update older machines, Nicholson emphasized that Penta Gear can assist customers who may have an aging workforce with knowledge of early manufacturing skills.
“We have some customers that are still rolling charts out for their leads and profiles,” he said. “And the people who know how to do that, well, they’re retiring; they’re leaving. And not only that, but their customers want better information. They want better documentation on the gears they’re making, and this allows them to really go from the old-school charts to the new-school charts at an affordable price.”
To further assist its customer base, Penta Gear is moving into the next level of gear manufacturing. Nicholson said the company is working on gauges with absolute systems, whereas most gauges today use incremental systems. By doing so, Penta Gear is trying to remove the subjectivity of inspecting gears and produce reliable tools so engineers on the shop floor can make the proper decisions.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be in this business,” Nicholson said. “I started my career at John Deere in Moline, Illinois, and I found — almost by accident — the mystery that gears offer. The more I learn, the less I know, and that just invigorates me to learn more and to challenge myself and to challenge our people to go above and beyond the status quo. And that starts with one simple question: What can we do to make it better?”