The challenges of Ontario Drive & Gear (ODG) Ltd.’s industry may have grown over the years, but the company’s high ambitions have not decreased.
Instead, “We continue to focus on becoming a world-class manufacturer of small to medium-volume production gears and transmissions,” Vice President of Industrial Sales Norbert Benik says.
Based in New Hamburg, Ontario, Canada, the company started operations in 1962 in Kitchener, Ontario, as a machine shop that manufactured power transmissions and gears. Eventually, ODG developed a transmission for a six-wheel-drive all-terrain vehicle (ATV). When the company saw potential in the ATV market, it decided to manufacture its own six-wheel amphibious vehicle, the ARGO, in 1967. When ODG needed more room, it moved to New Hamburg, where it built a facility to “manufacture and produce these all-terrain vehicles,” Benik says, adding that in the 1970s, the company also began producing snowmobiles, ski groomers, and three-wheeled ATVs, as well as other types of equipment.
Since then, ODG has expanded its gear business further and built a separate plant, focused on serving industrial gear market customers. “Twenty-five percent of our business today is for our all-terrain vehicle product, and 75 percent is for other industrial applications,” Benik says.
“Our customers today are industries such as forestry, material handling, construction equipment, agriculture, military and automotive,” he says. “We also do spare parts support and prototype development.”
ODG’s Technology Focus
Benik joined ODG in 1988 and says the company has stayed successful by making sure its operations are state of the art. Annually, he says, the company invests $1.5 million in new technology. “These investments have allowed us to make high-quality gears,” Benik says. “With these investments, we have been able to reduce our labor costs to continue to be competitive with lower labor cost countries around the world.”
For instance, last year, ODG added a CNC gear grinder to its operations. “This was a $1.5 million piece of equipment in itself,” Benik says. “It allows us to make gears to a higher quality level as well as process parts quicker.”
He notes that the company’s gear division is now focused on manufacturing “quiet gears, which produce less noise in our customers’ equipment. Many of our customers are facing pressure to reduce noise in their gears and gearboxes and ODG is working with them to accomplish this.
“Noise can be irritating to the ear, depending on the requirement of the vehicle or the production facility where it’s being used,” he says. “Our customers also say they want reduced noise levels to meet ongoing, increasing government regulations.
“I think there will be a move to get it as quiet as possible,” he predicts, but notes that an important aspect to consider is safety.
It is essential that the sound of the gears is still acceptable enough so that people know that the vehicle or equipment is operating, he explains.
“We’ve brought some equipment down to the 70 to 80 decibel range,” he says, explaining that the company is also focused on making the sound quality more pleasing to the ears. “ODG is looking to develop gears and transmissions that have sound characteristics that can be identified with the customers’ products.”
ODG also concentrates on many environmental initiatives, Benik says. “We are trying to reduce waste as much as possible,” he says.
For instance, while most gear manufacturing companies use oil for cooling, “We use a process called dry hobbing on some of our gear manufacturing equipment that does not require cutting oil,” he says.
“This process allows us to gear cut quicker and more efficiently as well as eliminate the need for cutting oil, thereby reducing our overall manufacturing costs.”