Cleveland Gear Co

For almost a century, Cleveland Gear Co. has sustained its reputation for producing high-quality worm gearing with an emphasis on precision, performance and on-time delivery. The Cleveland-based manufacturer’s long-term relationships with vendors, suppliers and customers are solid proof of that, according to John Atkinson, vice president of sales, who says the company’s willingness to customize is one way it stands out in the industry.

“The thing we try to emphasize to our customers is we don’t shy away from their applications or requests,” Atkinson says. “We have the capability to design and produce both gearing and gear drives to our customers’ specifications. We have pre-engineered gear sets and gear drives that we can either customize to meet customers’ requirements, or we can design from a clean sheet of paper. If it’s within our capabilities, we will design a solution to the problem.”

Continued Growth

Cleveland Gear Co. was established in 1912 as a manufacturer of worm gearing, which, at the time, was often used for rear axle drives in automotive applications. Over time, the company’s product line expanded to include enclosed worm drives and speed reducers. And it began serving other markets, such as the steel , electric power generation, paper printing and material handling industries.

“In 1995, we expanded our custom enclosed drive products to include helical and helical-bevel enclosed drives,” Atkinson notes. Cleveland Gear hired experienced sales and engineering personnel as part of this expansion. Those hired, including Atkinson, brought more than 60 years of experience with a variety of custom gear drives.

The company opted to take advantage of a neglected market segment that year and expanded its product portfolio. Today, Cleveland Gear’s custom drive offerings include worm, helical, bevel and spur gearing. “We pride ourselves on our capability to meet our customers’ specifications and provide them with a gear drive that is highly reliable and produced in a timely fashion so they can meet their own production requirements,” Atkinson states.

Inside Capabilities

A distinguishing feature of Cleveland Gear’s manufacturing operations is its capability to design its own tooling for the cutting of worm gearing and worm threads. This is unusual in today’s marketplace, Atkinson says. “We can also produce many of our own hobs for the cutting of the gears in-house. Again, that is unusual,” Atkinson remarks. “We’ve always had our own hob making and design capabilities. Making our own tooling also sets us apart from the majority of companies that produce the larger worm gearing.”

The company strives to upgrade its production capabilities each year, Atkinson continues. “We recently acquired a large 1.6-meter gear hobber that has the capability to mill our own worm shafts up to 27 inches in center distance,” he says. “I think that’s quite unusual for this type of production in the United States. Cleveland Gear also has its own internal heat-treating for our worm shafts where we can caseharden the worm threads and grind them on our thread grinders. We’ve also recently installed some upgraded machinery for machining the housings for our enclosed gear drives.”

Wise Investments

As a privately held company, Atkinson is grateful for the owners’ willingness to support Cleveland Gear’s success by acquiring state-of-the equipment, “even in a market that has been depressed over the last 12 months,” he adds.

“We obviously try to procure our materials as wisely as we can so we can offer our customers the most economical cost,” Atkinson explains. “A worm gear is unusual in that it typically is made from a bronze alloy. The largest component of that alloy is copper. The price of copper has increased dramatically over the past 12 months, so we’ve been working with our suppliers, and when we see that it’s the right thing to do, we secure larger quantities of copper so we are not subject to future price increases. We might buy a contract for a fairly large amount of copper with our suppliers. That will hopefully lower our cost, which will allow us to hold our prices to our customers.”

Cleveland Gear enjoys having long-term partnerships with its suppliers. This allows the company to establish trusting relationships in the industry. “We have good relationships with our suppliers,” Atkinson says. “Most of them are companies we’ve worked with since I’ve been here.”

The same goes for its customers and even its employees, he adds. “Employees stay here for a long time – at 15 years, I’m just one of the rookies,” Atkinson says. “We have a number of employees with over 40 years’ experience here that aren’t old enough to retire; they’ve been here for their whole career. The management works hard to continuously improve the work environment to make their jobs easier. It’s a pretty easygoing environment.”