Q&A with Brian Slone

July 09, 2013

President, Slone Gear International


GS: I hear there are some exciting things in the works for Slone Gear International.
BS: We’re merging with a company that has laser machining and welding technology used in the medical industry. The main focus of Slone Gear International is gear and spline measurement. But because of our unique knowledge of the market, we’ve combined the measurement of products with performance optimization for those same components. A small business innovation research grant was given by the U.S. government to develop technology for micro surface pocketing onto spline surfaces using a laser, then coating it with a dry lubricant to extend the wear life of the surface. It allows for reduced sliding friction as well as reduced wear due to fretting. We’re going to apply that technology to the gear market. In addition, we’re working on an in-line, non-contact measurement device that can really change the gear measurement market.

GS: Sounds pretty innovative. How far along are you?
BS: Testing on laser dimpled surfaces has gone on for a couple of years, and now we’re doing some testing on spline shafts and cold-forming punches. The technology works by putting these micron-sized laser dimples into the surface and then using a proprietary process to apply the dry lubricant to the surface. It holds this new dry lubricant so it doesn’t wear off as quickly as a non-dimpled surface, a sort of enhanced surface preparation for dry coating.

GS: You’ve been involved in the gear industry for over 25 years. Give me a brief history of your time in the industry.
BS: I got my degree from Purdue and did a co-op at Cincinnati Milacron in machine tool research and development during the 1980s. After the research and development division was closed, I transferred into the gear world and joined M&M Precision Systems in 1987. I was there for 9½ years.

From there I went to a privately-owned company for 15 years. When I first started with them, they were looking to develop products to complement their big “job shop” by creating a product offering. The owner saw some room for a new analytical player in analytical gear measurement equipment, so I led a development team to create a gear metrology product line. I worked on that for 15 years, and then left to start my own company.

GS: That’s Slone Gear International—a multi-faceted organization. How is the company divided?
BS: Slone is broken down into three parts:
1) Functional gauging—spline gauges, master gear, and double-flank roll testers;
2) Analytical measurement—gear measurement machines, the large portable gear measurement system I mentioned earlier, and a machine that checks roundness; 
3) Services—contract inspection and gear and spline training classes. I teach these classes myself. We’ll do about five each year, just to bring the new guys up to speed very quickly with gear terminology and how to measure and analyze their gears and splines.
It’s been fantastic. We’re adding employees and sales are up. With the economy coming back, I’ve picked a good time to start! There are a lot of people needing help in the gear and spline consulting area as to what type of equipment to buy. I’ve also worked with companies to find the right partner to purchase gears for certain jobs and programs. That didn’t start out as a focus of Slone Gear, but my experience in the gear industry has helped that part grow: Knowing the advantages of different manufacturers in the US.

GS: What kind of criteria do you consider when recommending a manufacturer?
BS: The first questions I ask are, “Do I have a comfort level with the integrity of the company?” and  “Are they going to back what they say they’re going to do?” Usually I have knowledge of the owner or president of the company through my 26 years in the gear industry.

Then I look at what their equipment capabilities are. “Do they have the right measurement equipment to do the quality work that the client needs? Do they have the production equipment to keep up with the volume?” After the introduction, the clients tour the plant themselves, and we gauge their reaction. So far they’ve all been very positive.

GS: Let’s say I come to you looking for a solution. Walk me through the process:
BS: First, I’d evaluate what’s going on over the phone, gathering details about the type of process. Maybe we can deal with some “low hanging fruit,” the tooling and workholding issues that you can sometimes resolve over the phone. If there’s more involved, I can make a trip into the plant to observe the operation.

If it necessitates a certain expert, I’ve got people in partner companies that can solve specific issues: people in coating, surface technology, gear failure analysis—26 years of relationships helps to solve problems quickly by knowing the right people to get involved. I can call and share information, and they can help the client.

It’s also one of the things a smaller company can bring: relationships and flexibility. We’re a company focused on gear metrology, helping clients with their needs from hand gauges to full-blown analytical measurement requirements. We’re willing to take the time to understand the problem and help educate them as to the best solution.  

To learn more visit www.slonegear.com or call 507-401-GEAR.