A variety of industry trends are impacting the design of hydraulic components and systems used in mobile equipment – from electrification and automation to remote monitoring via telematics systems.
With these trends has come a need for hydraulics to be more efficient and precise. To achieve these goals, there is an increased effort to integrate electronics, including sensors, as well as software which can help to improve the performance of hydraulics as well as monitoring capabilities.
Power & Motion spoke with Russ Schneidewind, OEM Sales Manager at HydraForce, about these trends, what the company looks forward to seeing at IFPE 2023 and how the recent acquisition by Bosch Rexroth will aid future compact hydraulic developments.
*Editor’s Note: Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.
Power & Motion (P&M): What are some of the major trends HydraForce is seeing for hydraulics used in mobile equipment applications?
Russ Schneidewind (RS): We’re seeing increased demand in electronic controls. More electronics are being added to machines and we're seeing less dependency on mechanical manual lever type controls for the hydraulics as well as even hydraulic pilot controls. I think there's a lot of advantages that the OEMs are reaping from that change to electronics as they become more affordable. Also, it offers more opportunity for the operators; some of the attachments that are being used on equipment are electronically driven or managed, and so the controllers are starting to become more powerful and therefore driving hydraulics toward more electric over hydraulic control.
And with that we're also seeing a trend toward increased demand for precision in proportional control. And sometimes this even includes sensors for feedback so they can get more precise control of their hydraulic actuators or motors.
In addition, there's this increased demand for improved energy efficiency. Hydraulics has been kind of spoiled over the years, I think, in that we always had this big diesel-powered engine on all the mobile equipment. And now with more and more stringent regulations and higher costs for fuel we're getting to the point where hydraulics has to really change and become more efficient as part of the system on those vehicles.
P&M: Are there any key features OEM customers are looking for from their hydraulic components, and how is HydraForce helping to provide those?
RS: The OEMs are clearly prioritizing increased availability and uptime for their machines as well as productivity and performance, along with lower total cost of ownership and compliance with regulations. Hydraulic components are going to need to provide more precise proportional control and that's going to require us to reduce hysteresis and improve response time and repeatability not only from valve to valve but even within the valve performance.
Additionally, customers are looking for improvements in power density, more power and less weight. And they're also considering connectivity – how can they take data from the machines. And since hydraulics is an integral part of operation of the machine, there's got to be data being provided from some of those hydraulics.
At HydraForce we’re continuing to focus on developing new cartridge valve products where we integrate more electronic controls [and] some sensor technology as well. That allows us to decrease hysteresis and improve our valve-to-valve repeatability. The cartridge valve style has always been a component that facilitates compact and lightweight designs and systems to optimize the power density. So, that's some of the stuff we're focusing on as well as looking at materials that can handle higher pressures or designs; manifold designs that can be more compact and more robust for higher pressures and longer cycles as well.
P&M: How has HydraForce seen electrification, automation or other major industry trends impact the design of hydraulic components?
RS: One of the major trends that a lot of people are talking about is electrification. That's really going to require that step improvement in energy efficiency for hydraulic systems because when we had that big diesel engine with all the excess power, wasted energy in the form of heat or pressure drop, in terms of hydraulics, wasn't a big concern. We use pressure drop to enhance control in a lot of cases, especially when we're looking at proportional control.
Now with electrification, as an example, or even a different power source, like hydrogen, it's just not quite as [power] dense as a diesel engine. So we have to find ways to reduce energy consumption to be more efficient so the machines can still operate a typical work cycle without having to be recharged. [Otherwise] that's just going to be an annoyance for operators of construction equipment, as an example, if they have to either change batteries during a work cycle or trade machines [by] putting one machine in a by to charge while the other one goes back out to do some work. That's going to be a really big change.
Also, regarding automation, hydraulic components in order to function within that automation [will need to advance]. Right now we have manual operators who are making lots of corrections and overcoming some changes in the valve performance. Hydraulic components are going to need to improve response time, repeatability, and lower hysteresis in order to really achieve the types of goals that automation is going to require.
P&M: How does HydraForce foresee the recent acquisition by Bosch Rexroth benefiting the company and its ongoing technology developments?
RS: HydraForce and Bosch Rexroth coming together and joining forces, it's really a combination of complementary strengths in customer focus and application expertise and our industry knowhow. It'll mean excellent support and innovation for our customers and stronger relationships with our partners. We also see greater opportunities for our employees.
HydraForce over its history has really focused on mechanical and electrical cartridge valves, and hydraulic integrated circuits, or manifold. And Bosch Rexroth, when added to HydraForce, offers a wider range of compact hydraulic components and systems. When we look at it as a combined portfolio, it's a strong offering for our customers; it really helps them to build better machines. They don't have to necessarily make a choice [between] one type of product or the other, we're going to be offering and showing the industry how we can combine the technologies to really offer an optimal solution. The other thing is these product portfolios coming together really complement each other very well.
Even when we look at our sales support, the compact hydraulics group of Bosch Rexroth has been strong in Europe and HydraForce has a strong footprint in North America. The combination of these activities with our company and our sales organization is going to further the growth in both regions for us, as well as Asia Pacific; we both have pretty good presence in Asia Pacific and we think the combined entity is going to be very strong. We also see with the combination of the two companies we're going to have increased strength in supply chain and logistics. We believe we'll see synergies that secure a better position for us in the global market, and expand and increase capacity that will increase the availability of our products to our customers.
We see the merger is a complementary alignment for our technology developments. Each company is bringing technology developments that don't really conflict, they actually complement each other. We're looking at addressing the same market trends, market opportunities, and the diversity of thought and potential solutions we can come up with now together as a combined entity will really give us a unique position for compact hydraulics.
P&M: What are some of the technologies the company is interested to see or learn more about at the International Fluid Power Exposition (IFPE) 2023?
RS: We're really interested to see what kind of sensing technology is out there. Bosch Rexroth, as now we're part of that organization, already has a strong lineup of sensing technologies. We're also just interested to see what else the industry has developed over the years since the last show in 2020.
And we're looking for stuff that we can integrate into HICs or manifolds and also into cartridge valves. We're also kind of interested to see where companies are progressing with respect to telematics and remote access technologies. Bosch Rexroth has the BODAS system that they've been offering the marketplace for some time and HydraForce as well has been entering the marketplace for telematics and remote access. There are some things that we hope to see at the show that might give us better vision into what's going to happen in the marketplace for construction equipment and what's being developed by some other companies within our industry in that technology as well.
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P&M: Are you able to share what technologies or industry trends will be highlighted at HydraForce’s IFPE booth?
RS: At HydraForce’s booth we'll be showcasing our new Innercept Digital Proportional Control product line. It is the integration of a position sensor and LVDT, as well as a PID loop controller and a really clever and easy-to-use graphic user interface (GUI) based on our HF Impulse software. That [product] is addressing some of the trends we already discussed of needing more precise proportional control. Also, it can provide information back through the CANbus network [which] enhances the information that might be stored or relayed over the telematics systems that are being developed.
We're also going to be showcasing our HF Impulse GUI software, but it's [version] 2.0 this year. Originally, we developed HF Impulse for those hydraulic engineers who maybe weren't so comfortable with programming controllers. This was at a time where we were seeing a transition in what types of hydraulics were being used [related to the] trend of electronic controls. The original HF Impulse is a way to program or configure already compiled programs. Now, we still have that option available in Impulse 2.0, but we're also expanding it so that people who are have become more comfortable with programming can do more in-depth and customized programming in C++ or even structured text where you can copy and paste the program into it as well and also be able to store these as their own library for future use and other projects. The ultimate goal of that software is to really speed up development for customers who are integrating electronics and hydraulics.
We're also going to be showing a new product that is our first step into a load holding or motion control market that hydro force typically hasn't been involved in. It's called an EHBL – it’s an electrohydraulic boom lock valve. And it's based on a different type of technology than what's typically used in the industry today. We want to show customers how it can improve performance and energy efficiency through lower pressure drop, and maybe even some potential for storage of energy for reuse in hydraulic systems on construction equipment.
Now that we're integrated with the compact hydraulics business unit of Bosch Rexroth we're going to have some products in our booth related to compact directional valves, compact power modules, and compact motion control products. And also showing how we're going to be able to integrate the wide product range of HydraForce’s cartridge valves and HIC capabilities with those products as well.
Lastly, we're kind of excited to have what we're calling a collaboration zone. And we're inviting original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to come over to our booth in IFPE and meet with some of our highly talented application engineers and have real discussions about problems they're seeing on their machine and solutions that we can provide. In that collaboration zone we'll be demoing HF Impulse 2.0 and our manifold software package i-Design as well as the [Bosch Rexroth] CHoose, their program for putting together compact directional valves and compact power modules as well as HICs. And just trying to use that time and space to come up with good business solutions for customers.
P&M: What trend or other factors does the company foresee will have the largest impact on the fluid power industry in 2023?
RS: I think one of the biggest impacts on fluid power is the continually increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations that's driving OEMs to different power sources. It's really requiring an increase in energy efficiency and precision of fluid power applications in mobile equipment.
We're also seeing this decrease in availability of skilled labor. And that's really going to require improvements in machine performance and productivity, [which is] probably going to require more automation assistance in machines that are today driven by humans. Not to say that they're going to go fully automated, but to say that some functions are going to be automated, [such as] repetitive functions. We did this on a skid steer loader, for example, and made a return to dig/return to dump[function] which is just a repetitive operation if you're going into a pile and digging into a pile with the skid steer loader and then dumping it into a truck. We demonstrate[d] how that could be automated and the benefit to not only the operator but also energy efficiency, because if we take out some of the variable of an unskilled worker in a machine and we automate some of that repetitive motion, then the machine itself can optimize use of that function and see some potential energy savings as well.
This decrease of available skilled labor is also going to affect the machine owners’ capability to repair some of this equipment, especially quickly repair it. Today, we're in a place where the machine just breaks down and then it must be fixed quickly in the field, or we just basically can't use that machine. And then there's a day maybe loss of work or even more. With telematics and remote access, information can be watched or monitored, and we can see trends and how the machine is operating. What we're hoping to do from the hydraulic system is be able to show trends and how the hydraulic oil is changing or how the functions are operating in the hydraulic system and then give operators and owners an advanced notice that something's going to need to be repaired so that they can get the part ahead of time or at a time when it's going to be convenient to make the repair. [Possibly] there's going to be required some training on how to fix something before making that repair. And maybe that person on site can do it easier once they've had that training ahead of time. Ideally, if it's a software-related issue, it's something that could be addressed remotely.
I think those are some key trends that we're going to be seeing in the future.