It’s a testament to Precision Gage Company that, from its beginnings in a living room in Chicago, it is celebrating its 70th year in the industry this year.
Precision Gage has prospered by offering common-sense inspection solutions for manufacturing, especially with regard to gear inspection, according to RG Layland, director of business development for Precision Gage. Layland is also the grandson of the company founder. RG’s father, Roger, is the company’s president.
“Gear inspection solutions comprise about 50 percent of what we do today,” he said. “We’re able to bring the knowledge about the manufacturing of gears and the understanding of how the inspection process applies to it. Maybe more importantly, we understand the many ways the gears are put to use. When we bring that holistic approach to the inspection of gears, our clients benefit. It’s the reason we’ve been able to gain this wide breadth of experience as a company.”
Among the complete line of inspection and quality control products the company produces, Precision Gage’s signature product is the VARI-ROLL, a dual flank composite tester developed in 1952.
“When the VARI-ROLL was first developed my grandfather brought it to a customer for a demo. A mutual customer just happened to be there at the same time and noticed the tester and asked about it. After a quick demo in the lobby, this mutual customer informed my grandfather that he wasn’t going to do the scheduled demo, and that it was going into his trunk because he was buying it on the spot,” Layland said. “The rest of the company has grown from the success of that product. It firmly established our company in the Dual Flank Composite space.”
The VARI-ROLL Gear Tester is used by gear manufacturers and end users in the aerospace, automotive, home appliance, government, computer, and power tool industries, both nationally and internationally.
“The VARI-ROLL was developed with a building block approach to gear inspection,” Layland said. “The interchangeability is what makes it unique. The inspector can have one base unit and then tool it up to inspect any other type of gear. This is unique among the various types of gear inspection approaches in the industry.”
This degree of flexibility allows systems to be tailored economically, with fixtures for specific types and sizes of gears readily available for use, according to Layland. The VARI-ROLL lets fine-pitch gears and many coarse pitch gears be composite tested both accurately and cost-effectively.
“We always try to locate parts in ways that mimic how they will get used in their application,” Layland said. “That’s the best way to predict their performance. We strive to ensure that our customers and the people who use our products are getting what they expect in a quality part.”
The Precision Gage philosophy is that quality products should come with quality service, according to Layland. That comes through in how the company interacts with its customers, especially when they present the Precision Gage team with a challenge to solve.
“Manufacturing is problem-solving. The first thing we strive to do when our customers ask us for help is to fully understand the problem,” he said. “We start by asking a lot of questions, so we can fully understand everything about their specific process. If we don’t account for all the variables they face on the job, then the solution we propose could have undesirable outcomes.”
After Precision Gage understands the nature of the problem, then it tackles the environment.
“It’s about making sure that we understand what their expectations are for the end-result,” Layland said. “Generally, we only have one shot at solving the problem, so we have to get it right the first time. That’s just the nature of our business. We don’t have a lot of opportunities where we can revise over and over. Normally, manufacturers need our inspection solution right away, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”
Even though Precision Gage offers many services and products that are “off-the-shelf,” custom solutions are what the company is really about, according to Layland.
“When it comes to custom inspection equipment, we’ll quote it, providing concepts up front if that’s what’s required,” he said.
Any special designs a customer may need are approved in advance before any production begins, according to Layland.
“There are checks and balances throughout the whole process. That’s how we make sure that there are no surprises and that the customer gets exactly what they want,” he said. “It’s that conversation — the questions up front that help us make sure that everybody is on the same page about the challenge itself and the expectations for the outcome.”
“We’re known for providing options,” he said. “We don’t necessarily push one way or the other unless we’re very confident in a particular solution. Usually, each option has a trade-off — its benefits and its drawbacks. One option may have greater measurement variability, but the equipment is less expensive. Another option may be more expensive but is more reliable and reduces the chance for operator error. Often, that’s the more desirable option because it pays for itself in the long term.”
Layland points to Precision Gage’s longevity, not only as a point of pride but also a contributing factor to the company’s continuing success.
“This is our 70th year, and VARI-ROLL has been part of that history for 65 of those years,” he said. “We are well known and well respected in the industry, in large part due to VARI-ROLL’s success but also because our customers know we’re stable and reliable. A lot of our business comes from referrals by customers we’ve served for decades. Prospective customers visit gear shops, see our VARI-ROLLs, and their owners say, ‘Hey, you should work with Precision Gage. They know what they’re doing.’”
A Staple within the industry
As the gear industry continues to evolve, Layland said Precision Gage remains steadfast to the things its known best for: its practical, common-sense, problem-solving ingenuity.
New technologies are being developed that will accelerate the manufacturing of gears. It’s for that very reason, according to Layland, that Precision Gage’s services will still be an important part of making sure those gears measure up.
“The direction the industry is going is toward higher precision, better throughput, and more automation at every step,” he said. “But problems will always come up during production, no matter how automated the processes become. You may not have people manually rolling parts anymore, but that only makes professional inspection that much more important. Inspection will still be the key to ensuring quality parts are produced at each step in the manufacturing process, and they’ll need the right gages to do it.”
“That’s obviously where we have our place,” he said. “When manufacturers need someone who can solve real, everyday problems, Precision Gage will be the company they call.”
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