What is the NFPA’s involvement with the ISO committee and how do you hope to benefit your fluid power manufacturer members?
NFPA continues to serve as the focal point in representing U.S. interests in international standards development—over 140 fluid power industry volunteers help ensure a fair playing field for U.S.-based fluid power manufacturing, while advocating for standards that make fluid power an easier technology choice for customers. One example of a benefit to member companies would be the focus on making fluid power components more efficient and therefore more attractive to customers who may not have considered using fluid power technology before. And our involvement at the ISO level is critical in making sure the standards that are developed internationally are not putting our members at a competitive disadvantage.
Any other regulations or standards that have recently passed or are on the horizon that affect your members’ businesses?
A recent point of focus in fluid power standards development has been energy efficiency. Fluid power systems and components are becoming more energy efficient, standards encouraging more efficient systems will help take efficiency developments to an industry-wide level, with fluid power playing a more prominent role in key markets. We are seeing renewed enthusiasm among our standards development committees, with more engaged participants, a new generation of engineers starting to take lead roles, and some exciting new projects moving forward. We encourage anyone interested to contact us and get involved.
TECHNOLOGY OF THE FUTURE
Please give an overview of the 2015 updates made to the Technology Roadmap in regards to advancements in the industry.
The 2015 NFPA Technology Roadmap: Improving the Design and Function of Fluid Power Components and Systems identifies the following six broad areas of research challenge for the fluid power industry to tackle in order to meet the future needs of its customers, expand fluid power into new customer markets, and attract the best and brightest students to field.
- Increasing the energy efficiency of fluid power components and systems
- Improving the reliability of fluid power components and systems (e.g., increasing up-time, reducing maintenance requirements, making fuid power safe and easy to use)
- Reducing the size of fluid power components and systems while maintaining or increasing their power output
- Building “smart” fluid power components and systems (i.e., ones that perform self-diagnostics and troubleshooting and that integrate easily with “plug and play” functionality)
- Reducing the environmental impact of fluid power components and systems (e.g., lowering noise, eliminating leaks)
- Improving and applying the energy storage capabilities of fluid power components and systems
Organizations that wish to pursue projects of importance to the fluid power industry should seek alignment with these Challenges. A full copy of the report can be downloaded from:
What education programs (internships, mentorships, continuing education classes) do you offer or participate in to help cultivate the next generation of engineers?
NFPA offers a variety of programs at the pre-college and college levels to promote fluid power education and get members involved in cultivating the next generation of fluid power engineers. At the pre-college level we have the Fluid Power Challenge, a competition that challenges students to solve an engineering problem using fluid power. They work in teams to design and build a fluid power mechanism, and then compete against other teams in a timed competition. We also have a new Student Career Connections program where students get to tour an NFPA member company and learn about fluid power careers. At the college level, we offer laboratory and teaching grants to 2-year technical schools and 4-year universities that teach fluid power. We are also supporters of IFPS technical certifications for fluid power professionals.
What economies should be the primary international targets for new investments and continued growth for fluid power manufacturers?
We rely heavily on Oxford Economics for our look at markets around the world, and their very detailed reports are available to members of NFPA.
It’s a little hard to find the bright spots around the world in terms of investment and growth prospects. A few years ago, everyone was talking about the emergence of the BRICs - Brazil, Russia, India and China. Now, the economies of Brazil and Russia are struggling. And China’s economy is expected to continue slowing, dampening the demand for fluid power.
It’s hard to find a vibrant growth economy in Europe, though it looks like Oxford sees Italy as a bright spot for fluid power demand growth.
Closer to home expectations for Mexico have been revised downward to slow growth, and Canada’s growth has been flattened out by lower oil prices.
Are there any presidential platforms that you are aware of with the upcoming 2016 election that you are keeping your eye closely on that could affect your members’ businesses?
At this early stage of the election cycle, we think there isn’t enough information about who may emerge as final candidates and their positions on more specific policy issues that affect this industry…such as regulation, corporate taxation, funding for technology research. It’s also too early to know whether the shifts that take place in the political landscape will affect our efforts to secure additional federal grant funding for fluid power roadmapping and research activities.
But we think more will be known by the time the industry comes together at the NFPA Annual Conference in March. The program we are building focuses on some of the major drivers of change going forward and how companies can position themselves for success. One of the drivers is political change, and we’ll have Amy Walter, prominent political analyst and national editor of the Cook Political Report, as one of our primary speakers. We think she will be able to shed some light on what to expect from the, by then, narrowed presidential field and more focused congressional races. Right now, the Cook report indicates Republicans have a lot of seats to defend in the Senate making a change of control possible, while the House realistically remains in their control.
Are there any new markets that your members have been trying to leverage to overcome the ag/mining market declines?
Among our members we have pneumatics manufacturers and distributors, and they fortunately benefit from selling into some less cyclical markets, such as packaging and food processing machinery. And many have been looking toward growth in medical markets in recent years. For hydraulics, it’s hard to offset the effect of ag and mining market declines because they account for such a large portion of industry sales.