Q&A with Mike Helm

Manufacturing Engineering Manager, Oerlikon Fairfield


What are your duties with Oerlikon Fairfield? What’s 
a typical day like for you?

I am responsible for our manufacturing engineering that supports our shop floor, as well as supporting all new part development and our quoting process. Most of my time is spent with my team, coaching and training — passing along what I have learned during my almost 40 years here. I also spend time with our sales team, resolving technical issues that our customers may have — without our customers we have nothing.

What products and services does Oerlikon Fairfield offer?

It is important to understand that we are part of a much larger group (Oerlikon Drive Systems) with gear facilities spread around the world. Globally, our group manufactures gears, axle assemblies, gearboxes, and synchronizers for a wide range of industries covering both on and off highway and industrial applications. Here, at our location in Lafayette, Indiana, we produce custom gears, as well as sub-assemblies and finished gearboxes. We produce our own range of planetary drives under the Torque-Hub® brand, as well as build to print and custom designs for OEMs needing engineering support.

What is Oerlikon Fairfield doing 
to advance the gear industry?

Oerlikon Fairfield has been a member of AGMA for over 50 years. During that time, we have contributed to the standards and participated on the technical committees. Our employees have been past presenters at the fall technical sessions. Currently, we have about 85 active patents for both processes and gear designs. And some of our latest are system patents for driveline technology used on hybrid electric vehicles.
What are some of Oerlikon Fairfield’s proudest moments?

I think our proudest moment will actually come next year. We were founded in 1919, so we are about to celebrate our centennial; 100 years is a long time to be producing gears and motion drive products.
During that time, our facility in Lafayette has grown to be one of the largest of its kind in the industry. We have hundreds of employees and extensive machining capability spread across 600,000 square feet of manufacturing. We even have about 75,000 square feet dedicated to heat treating. All of that is a testament to our employees, who have made careers here and built this business across several generations.

What sets Oerlikon Fairfield apart when it comes to what you can offer a customer?

Our sweet spot is typically with medium-volume applications that require high-torque output. For loose components, we produce gears up to two meters in diameter and shafts up to three meters in length. For finished gearboxes, we produce everything from small drives, which output 800 Nm of torque to gearboxes weighing over 15,000 pounds and generating over 400,000 Nm of torque.

We have over 600 machine tools in our facility, most of them new, so that is a lot of machining capability. But, what really sets us apart is our design support. We have a large engineering group, which can supplement or replace our customer’s resources. Our engineers have extensive experience across a wide range of applications, and many OEMs come to Oerlikon Fairfield to solve performance challenges with their existing products.

Where do you see Oerlikon Fairfield in 10 years?

I think our industry will continue to see improvements with processes and materials used in gear manufacturing, and I would hope we remain at the leading edge of those future developments. Over time, I would expect that we will move into higher volume applications, which require a different manufacturing footprint. And I believe our services and product offering for finished drive assemblies will become more complex, requiring integrated drive options (electric or hydraulic), and including technology for things like condition monitoring and IOT.

For more information: www.oerlikon.com/fairfield

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is the editor of Gear Solutions. He can be reached at 800-366-2185 ext. 204.