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Power transmission goes high-tech

Power transmission goes high-tech

William M. Lechler
President, Sumitomo Machinery Corp. of America, Chesapeake, VA

Lechler joined Sumitomo in 1984. Since then, business has increased 112 fold. In his present position since 1991, he has spearheaded the development of three important new products which have given the product line of the company interchangeability, modularity, and worldwide appeal. He has succeeded in combining German technology and Japanese mass production and finance techniques with American marketing and sales know-how. Internationally, his strategy has been to recruit local talent for executive positions in satellite operations such as in Brazil, India, South Africa, Australia, and Mexico. Lechler has over 40 years experience in the power transmission industry with companies such as Reliance, U.S. Electric Motors, and Eurodrive.

The power-transmission (PT) industry is becoming more and more high-tech at the high-speed end, says Sumitomo's Lechler.

Design News: What new electrical products do you see coming in the near future?

Lechler: There are a whole series of different motor options that are going to be offered to users of PT equipment. The trend is to higher and higher speed inputs, which will allow us to go to smaller motors. As the cubic size of the motors gets smaller, the speed will get higher, and they'll be more easily controlled by electronic devices. The improvement in the technology of semiconductors is increasing rapidly. This improvement is going to permit us to control electrical current better than we have ever been able to, and to make it easier to design smaller, higher-speed motors.

The motor will also begin to be used more and more as a diagnostic tool. The motor and the gear are the lynch pin between the driven machine and the power company. So the customer buys power from the power company and runs it through a controller and motor and a gearbox to his driven machine. The efficiency of the driven machine needs to be analyzed by that intermediate point: either the controller, the motor, or the gearbox. This information can be sent back to the customer's computer to let him know what to do and when to do it. So, in terms of maintenance, replacement, or bearing failure, it's going to be predictive. These new predictive tools will give plant managers a wide array of information to work with in the not-too-distant future.

Q: Why is a "modular concept" in gearbox design important?

A: Modularity in a product line is the only way to achieve economies of scale in manufacturing and reduce costs. If you don't have your manufacturing costs down, you can't compete in world markets. So, in addition to offering a customer every configuration he needs--concentric shaft, offset, or right angle--when you have a modular product you can also offer it to him at a market price and still make a reasonable profit.

Q: What do you mean when you say that many manufacturers of gear drives are engaging in "risk management?"

A: Risk management is what many gearbox manufacturers are doing when they put more and more torque through the same-size gearbox. In other words, they don't increase the size of the box or the bearing, they just rate them higher. As the rating goes higher, the risk of failure is greater. For instance, failure in involute gearing is greater from shock than from anything else. So, the fewer teeth you have in contact in a gearbox, the greater the probability that you'll have catastrophic failure.

A plant manager or the owner of a production facility doesn't get too upset if the gearbox squeaks a little, and he doesn't care if it's just a little bit hot. But he does care if it catastrophically fails. Then, daily production of his product is effected. That's what our CYCLO product is all about--shock overload capacity and the virtual elimination of catastrophic failure.

Q: How were you so successful in implementing Japanese production techniques in America?

A: It has taken a certain amount of dedication and discipline to achieve that. The Japanese have great discipline and set a good example for their American counterparts. They have very strong work ethics, and, with their example, they pull the Americans along. They also utilize "Kaizen," which means they continuously work on "small improvements." That is vital for any manufacturing company. I'm proud to say that our production techniques are equal in all respects to those of our parent company.

Q: Demand for your products is increasing in developing countries. How does Sumitomo plan to compete with well-established European manufacturers?

A: We now have a network of assembly plants throughout our area of responsibility--North, Central, and South America, South Africa, India, Australia, and New Zealand. Along with our counterparts in Japan and Europe, we supply these assembly plants with component parts. This cooperative effort gives us stability and the ability to compete by maintaining local inventories and to respond promptly to customer needs. It also provides opportunities for production volume, which helps keep costs down due to economies of scale.

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