As we begin to wrap up 2023, it's hard not to spend time reflecting on what occured in the world of fluid power and electronic motion control as well as what may lie ahead in 2024.
The year kicked off with one of the biggest events for the hydraulics and pneumatics industry, the International Fluid Power Exposition (IFPE). It was the largest edition yet, demonstrating not only the continued value of these power transmission technologies but also the industry's eagerness to be out and about again after the 2020 event was hindered by the growing COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout IFPE and the co-located CONEXPO-CON/AGG show – one of the largest construction industry trade shows – it was evident the increasing role electrification is playing in the construction equipment and fluid power sectors. It was a topic of discussion with so many companies during the event, and new exhibitors aiding this transition, including battery manufacturers, electric actuator developers and more could be found in all parts of the show grounds.
While it was a positive event for so many in the industry, it was announced a few months later that IFPE will not be co-located with the 2026 edition of CONEXPO. Growth of the construction industry and space constraints due to the Las Vegas Convention Center being under construction were reasons given by CONEXPO's organizers the Association of Equipment Manufactures (AEM) for the decision.
Although the co-location with CONEXPO has been beneficial due to the importance of the construction industry to fluid power, particularly hydraulics, it also left out those in the sector who serve other markets. The National Fluid Power Association (NFPA), organizers of IFPE, are currently evaluating their options and have said there will still be a strong fluid power presence at CONEXPO 2026.
Another big event this year for the Power & Motion audience, particularly on the electronic motion control side, was Automate. This event focused on industrial automation technologies has grown in recent years, and the 2023 event was its largest to date according to organizers A3 - Association for Advancing Automation.
Given the growth of automation in this and many other sectors, and the need for more education and information on the technologies involved, organizers announced on the first day of the show that starting in 2024 the event will move from its usual biannual rotation to an annual schedule going forward. It is also moving to Chicago for the next show where there could be opportunity for even more exhibitors and attendees.
This year was also punctuated by some major acquisitions – first was Bosch Rexroth completing its acquisition of HydraForce, marking yet another big merger in the hydraulics industry, and the second being the acquisition of NI (formerly National Instruments) by Emerson.
Both demonstrate what feels like an ever-increasing trend of companies large and small coming together to merge their expertise. This trend is only likely to continue to help advance not only current technologies but also create those needed in the future, particularly to meet the growing trends toward more electrification, automation, digitalization and more.
Doing so enables each side to bring their specific expertise to the table so solutions which are better optimized can be created and brought to market faster. Heavy equipment OEMs Komatsu and Volvo recently announced their acquisitions of battery suppliers which will help enhance their developments of electric-powered off-highway equipment by bringing battery development in-house, enabling battery technology capable of meeting the specific requirements of heavy-duty machines to be developed. And Schaeffler recently announced its merger with Vitesco Technologies in an effort to become a leading motion technology provider for a range of applications, with a specific eye to advance emobility developments.
Another aspect which stood out this year was the greater emphasis on sustainability, and the many ways in which it can be achieved. Companies in the industries we cover wanting to be more sustainable within their own organizations and the products they create is nothing new, but has become more prominent due to a combination of things including government regulations and greater concern about the world and its many finite resources.
These efforts can be seen in a range of areas such as companies working to develop and use new materials which have less of an impact on the environment and in some cases recycled and used again. In its 2023 trends report, the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE) said sustainability is gaining ground as a key trend for those in the tribology industry.
In June, mining equipment OEM Epiroc announced it was working with steel manufacturer SSAB to research the use of 3D printing to produce spare parts using SSAB's fossil-free steel. Not only is the steel made in a more environmentally friendly manner, but 3D printing is seen as a potentially sustainable production option as well because it allows less material to be used as well as requires less machining. The companies are starting with the production of a hydraulic block common on Epiroc's mining rock drills.
These are of course just a few of the highlights of things that have taken place in the fluid power and electronic motion control world in 2023. It was a busy year during which electrification, automation and other major trends continued to pick up steam – which we will of course continue to watch in the coming year.
What 2024 has to bring remains a mystery, especially with calls for a recession before a period of growth during the last half of the decade, but by reflecting on the year that was we can gain a good sense of how the fluid power and electronic motion control markets continue to progress and where they may be headed in the future.