The UK is leading radical developments in the field of fluid power technology. While the solutions on offer are continually being improved and upgraded, change is also coming in the form of the service being offered.
‘In the end-user market, many people are looking for a single-source supplier,’ said a spokesman for Parker Hannifin. ‘Nowadays, when a sale is made it is more likely to be offering a solution rather than a product.’
Manufacturers and suppliers have to become more inventive to succeed in a changing market. ‘There are more and more imports coming from the Far East and Eastern Europe, so companies such as ourselves are having to be more innovative in order to compete successfully,’ he added.
‘We are constantly looking for growth and higher margin markets. The winners will be those companies that are able to offer a complete selection of products to the market together with technical expertise. It is very hard to compete on cost alone now, so the aim is to work with the customer at an earlier stage and show them the value of what you can offer overall.’
Such a strategy is also valid at the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) level. ‘From an OEM perspective, we are working with customers before their purchase order is even signed off. We look at their requirement and see where they are headed over the next five years. The whole systems and not just components must be considered,’ said the spokesman.
Meanwhile, the products on offer are developing features that can save time at the design stage while offering ease of use.
In August, Flomerics released the latest version of its engineering fluid dynamics (EFD) analysis software suite. EFD Version 8 offers improved CAD data handling and support, new physical models and advanced visualisation. Flomerics’ aim is to increase users’ ability to solve complex problems while sharing the results with interested parties down or upstream.
As part of this, Flomerics has added several key features that save users a significant amount of time and effort. For instance, EFD makes manual user intervention for fixing CAD geometry obsolete, as EFD automatically creates lids for all openings in the selected planar surface of the model. This function makes identification of the fluid region even easier.
The engineering database also contains a new set of predefined real gases, and users will be able to analyse mixtures of real and ideal gases to better represent the real-life behaviour of their products.
‘As more companies started embracing the concepts of product management and virtual or digital prototyping, several needs became clear,’ said Roland Feldhinkel, product director at Flomerics.
‘As companies try to reduce their development cycle and shorten time-to-market, companies cannot spend a lot of time, effort or energy in translating data back and forth — especially since with each translation, you end up creating multiple yet parallel sets of the same data.
‘Some companies can no longer afford to wait until the final prototyping phase to validate performance. Problem areas need to be identified earlier during the design process when it is less expensive to fix problems.’
Traditionally aerospace, defence and the automotive markets have invested regularly in this kind of technology. Now, its use is spreading. ‘We are now seeing a more widespread use of technology, for example in textile machines,’ said Feldhinkel.
‘Several companies such as Sulzer, Rieter, Santex and Bonas use our technology for improving their designs. For example, Neumag develops and manufactures machines for manufacturing synthetic fibres. Increasing demand for individual solutions and shorter innovation cycles has led the company to create multiple design variations of their products.
‘To optimise their machine components effectively, the company’s research and development department uses fluid flow simulation software.
‘Since the fibre manufactured with their system is repeatedly cooled, transported and gathered by air-pressure, the development of the respective nozzles and flow channels in these systems is a great challenge. The optimisation of these nozzles is done by design engineers using Flomerics software.’
According to Parker Hannifin, the oil and gas market is also generating significant demand. ‘It is very buoyant. We are seeing particular demand for our Black Eagle hose product for the offshore market,’ he said.
‘It is at the point where we can hardly make enough of it. Demand is strong from within the EU as well as the US and Asia. Market projections suggest that these conditions should continue to exist over the next three to four years also.’
Black Eagle TC hose is a second-generation hose that can replace steel pipe. It is built for oil field and offshore high-pressure speciality drilling applications, but can also be used in large-flow, high-pressure hydraulic applications.
It is designed to resist wear from abrasion while giving maximum protection from cuts, gouges and harsh environments. With a high-durometer, polyurethane outer cover, the core is constructed of a chemical-resistant, polyamide tube, reinforced with high-strength wire.
The product is designed to replace the so-called ‘Chiksan’ Pipe, which is heavy, inflexible and suffers from multiple leak points. Black Eagle is only a third of the weight of this and has an improved lifespan.
While the oil and gas industry may be in rude health, with high commodity prices creating increased revenues and a chance to invest further in its infrastructure, elsewhere, purchasing decisions are being made with a close eye on margins.
As a result, there is still concern that some of the best, most efficient systems are not widely in use.
‘Together with the Carbon Trust we have been looking to see why people do not take up the best technologies,’ said Ian Morris, director of the British Fluid Power Association.
‘One of the largest factors preventing firms from using great advances is that they have to make purchases dependent on price to stay competitive.’
However, failing to make the most of the products on offer may prove a false economy. ‘It means that rather than the best systems they are using those that are most adequate,’ added Morris. ‘However, if they want to stay competitive then they don’t really have a choice.’
With competition from overseas markets manufacturers must become more inventive, offering customers whole-system rather than just single products. Julia Pierce reports