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New Gear Cutting Equipment Meshes with 2020 Demands

By Michael C. Anderson Contributing Writer

The makers of gear generating equipment should keep in close contact with their customers to meet their evolving needs. “In the future, runs are going to be shorter, and programs and products are going to change more quickly—particularly in automotive. And we need to be ready. All of their programs are going to be much tighter, with lower volumes for the next five years,” according to Walter Friedrich, president and CEO, German Machine Tools Association (GMTA), Ann Arbor, Mich. “Up to now, we would build a machine for them slated for a specific part number, and this part typically would be made for the next four or five years. No longer.”

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Scudding operation as would be seen on an S 240 Scudding machine.

Flexibility is Paramount

As a result, these customers need  fewer machines—but those few need to be more flexible in order to be able to accommodate changing part sizes, Friedrich said.

GMTA is introducing the S 240, a Scudding machine available with one or two spindles in either a horizontal or vertical configuration. It’s designed for making internal ring gears as quickly and more economically than the traditional method of broaching.

“Right now, a lot of ring gears are produced by broaching—a very fast and reliable process,” Friedrich acknowledged. “But the disadvantage is that it’s also an expensive process as far as the tooling’s concerned. Working with our North American tooling partner, Star SU, our system can produce the same quality of internal ring gears—but with a tool that will cost only a fraction of what a broach bar costs,” he said.

At the same time, the two-spindle configuration enables production speed that matches broaching, and the Scudding process can be adjusted as needed to compensate for dimensional changes in the part from heat treatment—something that broaching isn’t able to do, he pointed out.

“We want to introduce this flexibility to the market,” Friedrich said.

Ease of Automation

Customers of EMAG LLC, Farmington Hills, Mich., are interested in learning to do more with fewer people through the use of automation, according to Kirk Stewart, vice president of sales.

The company’s Koepfer HLC 150 H gear-cutting machine features an integrated gantry and a FANUC controller. “It can be easily linked to other upstream and downstream machines [from EMAG] by means of its standard Track Motion automation,” Stewart said. “And the same ease of integration to the Track Motion system is a feature of the Koepfer VL4 H, our vertical pickup solution.” The basic architecture is shared with the older VL4, but rather than a turret with turning tools, a hob head and a synchronized tailstock are incorporated into the VL4 H, he explained.

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Gear cutting on a Koepfer HLC 150 H machine.

The company is also featuring two post-hobbing solutions to

reduce the typical burr on the breakout side of the tooth profile. The VLC 100 CC provides a stand-alone solution for cutting the chamfer of a gear tooth profile. “Many times, this technology is employed on the hobbing machine but at the expense of cycle time. In this case, a much simpler machine can be used and still perform with EMAG’s automated self-loading solution,” said Stewart. The VLC 100 RC can offer a similar technology to roll and effectively chamfer the end to the gear tooth profile with quicker processing, albeit with a very small residual edge form, he added.

While advanced automation was originally embraced by larger manufacturers with long part runs, the benefits of improved consistency and lights-out manufacturing are now being sought by mom-and-pop type job shops, Stewart noted.

“For example, the Koepfer K-Series of horizontal hobbing machines feature automated loading. Even for smaller shops, the autoloader allows for untended running of the machine.”

In-Line Inspection

Gleason Corp., Rochester, N.Y. has developed a solution to the quality requirements of electric-vehicle components. Stringent low-noise requirements for e-vehicles are changing the way transmission gear manufacturers approach, produce, and inspect gears, according to Christian Albrecht, the company’s director of global marketing.

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The stages of the hard finishing cell (HFC) with part scanning are diagrammed.

“In the typical high-volume gear production environment, as few as 5 percent of the gears are actually inspected, despite the increasing quality standards required of these low-noise gears,” he said. “That’s because the inspection process, performed by equipment off-line or in the quality lab, is much slower than the continuous generating grinding used to fine finish hardened gears.”

In response, the company has developed the Hard Finishing Cell (HFC), which he said is the first fully automated gear production system with the capability to inspect 100 percent of all the finished gears in-process.

The system uses a robotic loader to handle the workpiece and employs integrated modules for auxiliary processes, making it easier to accommodate specific user requirements, Albrecht said. A typical HFC will include part loading, GX Series threaded wheel grinding, washing, marking, measuring and part handling in a palletizer. It can also be configured to other gear production processes as well, “replacing the need for a multitude of machines.”

Most important, Albrecht said, is the scanning system that enables full inspection and Industry 4.0-level analytics. “The HFC integrates the new gear rolling system with laser scanning (GRSL) for high-speed, high-volume, in-process index, involute and lead measurement of all the gear teeth on potentially every gear,” he said. “Up to 100 percent part analysis and validation can take place in seconds, with real-time feedback and advanced analytics including in-depth gear noise analysis, thus eliminating the need to extract and run parts through the inspection room. Instead, Gleason’s closed-loop system benchmarks results from the GRSL to immediately adjust or correct machine parameters, assuring that optimum quality and minimum scrap are achieved.”

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Hobbing blank inside a Hera 350 hobbing machine.

Ease of Use For Less-Experienced Operators

One of the reasons manufacturers investigate automated solutions is a shortage of qualified, experienced workers. That same issue makes customers of Helios Gear Products LLC, South Elgin, Illinois, seek equipment that is relatively easy for less-experienced workers to use. According to the company’s president, Adam Gimpert, this need far outstrips the desire for, say, Industry 4.0 readiness—at least for his customers.

“Unfortunately, the barrier-to-entry for Industry 4.0 outweighs the benefits unless it can be deployed at large scale—e.g., Tier 1 automotive and aerospace. Honestly, I think most gear manufacturers have moved beyond the inflated promises of Industry 4.0,” he said. “They acknowledge that the benefits of connected devices will trickle down from the big players, but most realize—today, more than ever—that running a profitable business is driven by fundamentals and not shiny new technology. These fundamentals include a highly trained workforce, productive machine tools, cost-effective consumable tools—and easy-to-use collaboration software.”

The company has developed the Hera 350 gear hobbing machine, according to Gimpert, which features a FANUC CNC, direct-drive torque motors, linear scales, modern safety features, and domestic servicing. And it’s easy to learn and use, he said.

“The Hera 350 offers impressive streamlined dialog programming in the base package, with visual examples to guide users and accelerate training. Operators can easily enter data on a large color touchscreen panel for cutting one or two gears on a single workpiece using single- or two-cut cycles with radial, axial, climb, or conventional hobbing— or any combination thereof,” he said. “Additionally, crowning—lead modification—and automatic shifting over a damaged hob section are included. Manufacturers will appreciate the machine’s ease-of-use and how quickly operators can be trained.”

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