When you think of gears, you may think of the many different products that use them: planes, trains and automobiles; boats and airplanes; motorcycles and bicycles; heavy industry and power plants; elevators and scales; and watches too, to name just a few.
What you probably don’t think much about is the companies that make those gears. But one group that does is the American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA), a voluntary trade association of companies, consultants, and academicians whose work is the science, design, and manufacturing of gears, and whose annual meeting is being held this week in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. With nearly 500 member companies, including gear-makers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico and gear-related companies in more than 30 countries, AGMA has a lot of gear makers to focus on.
AGMA was founded in 1916 when the leaders at R.D. Nutall Company invited a number of industry peers to meet and develop the design and manufacturing standards for gear making. At that time, automobiles were just taking off, so gear making was in transition as companies explored ways to make gears quieter, experimenting with new materials and production methods. The group agreed that new technical standards were needed and organized to help make them a reality, an activity that AGMA continues to engage in today. The group is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to lead the development of U.S. standards, and it also heads Technical Committee 60 of the International Organization for Standardization (IS0) that develops international gearing standards.
That’s just one of many services AGMA offers. “Businesses join AGMA to get a step ahead of their competitors by keeping informed on trending economics, emerging technologies, industry news and trade updates, along with having access to the best gear manufacturing education available,” said Rebecca Brinkley, AGMA’s Director of Member Engagement & Communications. “AGMA provides members with direct access to resources, reports and the largest pool of gearing experts in the world that develop standards used globally by our committees.”
The association also offers non-technical benefits. “It helps companies with engagement,” said Greg Schulte, President at Bonfiglioli U.S.A., the domestic arm of an Italian design, production and distribution company for gearmotors, drive systems, planetary gearboxes and inverters whose American headquarters is in Hebron, Kentucky. Schulte also serves as Board of Directors Chair for AGMA. “It helps people in the industry build networks with others in the field. Members gain friends and sources they can call when they have challenges or issues to get somebody else’s perspective and insight.”
“Networking and building partnerships is a big piece of AGMA’s benefit for us,” added Kika Young, President of Forest City Gear, a manufacturer in Roscoe, Illinois, that’s heavily focused on gears for aerospace and outer space. (The company produced gears for several of the recent Mars rovers.) “We’ve connected in the past with Ronson Gears in Australia and Bevel Gears in India, and they’ll be at the AGMA annual meeting this week. We’re super excited to see them again.”
Today technology-driven change is a big focus for AGMA and its members, as the markets for EVs, robots and drones accelerate. “Gears are everywhere,” Schulte said. “The literally drive the world. As cars go from internal combustion to electric, you still need gears. Machines that used to use hydraulics are going electric, and they still need gears. Consumers and OEMs are going to like what’s coming–the user experience will improve greatly, and there will be opportunities to build in more safeguards.”
“With electric cars, gears have to be higher quality,” added Jared Lyford, Director of Manufacturing Operations at Forest City Gear. “They have to run even more quietly, since there’s no motor noise to cover their sound.” (That’s an interesting throwback to the very start of AGMA, with that same noise concern as when cars were first introduced.) “For us, aerospace and outer space will continue to grow.”
“The industry has so much to look forward to as we support wind energy, the switch to EVs, working with new alloys and additive manufacturing,” said Matthew E. Croson, President of AGMA. “We are on the cutting edge of making things move, and that’s exciting to be around.”
As with every industry, workforce development is a big focus in gear making. “Demand is growing, yet we struggle to find talent to work in manufacturing broadly, and within the power transmission industry specifically,” added Croson. “AGMA members offer good paying jobs, with benefits, and in a safe environment. Our challenge is to promote our industry collectively, and collaborate to get students to become ‘gear geeks.’”
Toward that end, the association has focused heavily on training programs recently. “In the last two years, AGMA has opened up a National Training Center at Richard J. Daley City Colleges of Chicago,” Schulte explained. “Young people today don’t have the same skill set as their parents and grandparents who worked on farms. Training the workforce is very beneficial to our membership. Also, because of Covid, we went more online, with 15 to 18 classes going from the traditional classroom to virtual. That’s a better fit for our younger generation, and it makes it more efficient for companies since there’s less off-time and travel to pay for.”
“There are some great classes at Daley that we use,” Young said. “We take advantage of their online classes too.”
Looking forward, the people at AGMA see continuing opportunities. “We have to challenge our engineers to come to this industry and be part of the solutions that we are facing as a global community,” said Croson. “Harnessing energy, transporting people and things, doing more with less…inspiring the engineers of the future, and to getting them to understand AGMA members can be a place to solve big, cool, complex issues–this is both our challenge and opportunity for the future.”
“There are always challenges that the manufacturing industry faces,” added Brinkley. “From a global supply chain to government trade and tariff regulations along with workforce shortages, our members have to evaluate annually what part of their business they can afford to keep and what they need to cut. Fortunately, as a 107-year-old association, AGMA has many members that have been with us from the beginning–they understand that keeping their membership is nothing but a solution for them.”