There is no “gear expert” merit badge for you to earn. I have posted before about the limited amount of gear education included in the standard engineering curriculum here in the U.S.; you are not alone in finding yourself thrust into the trade without baseline knowledge. We at Gear Technology are determined to raise our national “gear literacy” level with content targeted at those just entering our community.
You won’t become an “expert” overnight though. Please don’t be discouraged by this. I am a month away from starting my 48th year in the field and still find new and interesting things about gears on a regular basis. To help you assess your progress, I offer the following “requirements” for the steps up “gear mountain.”
Level 1 — Floor Sweeper. We throw a lot of lingo at newcomers. Any trip through the shop will expose the newbie to unfamiliar sights and sounds that require explanation. Explanations require words and those words quickly advance beyond “that shiny edge there.” Your first challenge is to be able to match the terminology in the reference book to the locations on the gear tooth. As soon as that is accomplished the student needs to be able to recognize the various types of gears on sight. Nothing undercuts your credibility more than not knowing enough to properly frame a question.
Level 2 — Machine Loader. Once you know what to call things, you can start thinking about how they are made. Spend as much time on the shop floor as you can watching gears being machined, molded, heat treated, finished, and assembled. More words will find their way into your vocabulary and more questions will come to mind. Fortunately, you can learn a lot just by watching. Why are some parts hobbed while others are gashed or shaped? Other than fire and smoke, what is going on in that heat treat area? “Loaders” are not expected to have answers; the best ones ask very interesting questions and appreciate concise answers — or better yet, the directions to reference books to get more in-depth information.
Level 3 — Machine Operator. Most of the journeymen I worked with during my shop floor assignments as an apprentice were chosen because they enjoyed sharing their wisdom with “the kids.” They typically understood everything about their operation and the quirks of both the machine and the process. They were “expert” at what they themselves did on a regular basis. If you have “gear things” in your daily activities, you need to become an “expert” on them. This means you do not settle for just “plugging and chugging” the input to a group of computer programs; you investigate the source of that input and understand how adjustments to the input effect the results. Question everything.