Machining’s hidden sector

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The problem
Higher hardness levels difficult to grind on existing grinders

The solution
New grinder for 36 to 40 HRC or higher materials opens doors to new markets

New grinding technology gives gear shop an edge

by Ed Robertson

It is generally accepted that metalworking and manufacturing suffer from an identity crisis, making it difficult to find and obtain qualified people interested in a manufacturing career. Add a specialty like gear cutting and gear finishing to this mix and it’s more like waving at distant boats or planes from a deserted island, waiting to be discovered.

Alan Balazic, general manager of Premier Machine & Gear, Kitchener, ON, acknowledges “if manufacturing was more in the spotlight, you’d see more young people interested. By comparison, gear cutting is a hidden sector, when it’s really simply specialized milling. We have a hard time conveying to school administrators that a gear shop does metalworking.”

He looks to his own education for the reasons why. “When I finished high school, guidance counselors didn’t really “guide” students,” he says. “Instead of looking at desires or wants, they looked at grades–university or college for better students and industry for the weaker. They parked you.”

There was never a chance to cultivate a manufacturing career for those that wanted it, he adds. “Industry has to change that perception.”

Founded in 1989 by Alan’s father, Jozef Balazic, the company’s purpose was to provide precision custom machining of gears, splines, keyways, milling and turning. Its record has been one of steady growth. In 1993, Premier Machine & Gear expanded into a neighbouring unit increasing in size from 2,000 to 3,000 sq ft. In 1996, Balazic needed more room for his machinery and moved into a 6,400 sq ft building of his own. In 2002, a 6,000 sq ft addition was built, bringing the current building size to 12,400 sq ft.

Gear cutting operations are equipped with specialized and diverse tooling and machining capabilities, such as hobbing and shaping of spur gears, helical gears, herringbone gears, worm and worm wheels, and racks. Industries served include steel processing, mining, power presses, agriculture, pulp and paper, and forestry, among others.

Alan points to his father Jozef as the main reason for the company’s record of growth. “He’s set a high standard for service and commitment, and as it’s a family business, you feel an extra sense of obligation. I went to school for industrial engineering, but 99 per cent of the knowledge I use every day is attributable to my dad. He’s a good machinist and a good man.”

On the horizon, Balazic notes a reduction in gears in certain low-torque equipment in favour of direct-drive motors, but a rise in the need for larger, coarse-pitch gears in the areas of mining, energy, and others. “Hardness levels are going up, too. We’ve been used to working with 28 to 32 Rockwell C” ; now we’re seeing level requirements at 36 to 40 HRC or higher,” he says. “Such levels are often impossible to finish on a conventional mill, making equipment like the Niles ZE 800 gear grinder necessary.”  

The benefits are substantial. 

“The arrival of this latest piece of technology not only increases our capacity and versatility, it also supports our plans to improve the gears for our current customers and enter into new markets, such as the renewable energy sector. We have undergone training from Niles with excellent support from their offices in Colorado and Germany. The machine is fully operational with immediate effect as we had secured contracts ahead of the purchase. However, we will be looking to recruit further by offering AGMA class 14+ capabilities with full profile and lead-modification capability.”

Sounds like a hidden sector that won’t remain hidden for long. SMT

Ed Robertson is a manufacturing journalist and contributing editor. [email protected]

Premier Machine & Gear

Machine Tool Systems


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