Most of us focus on our latest project or deadline with a “nose-to-the-grindstone” mentality. It’s also worthwhile to occasionally step back and look at the big picture, says Tom Price, president of Price Engineering. In his keynote presentation at Fluid Power World’s recent Technology Conference in Milwaukee, he pondered some mega trends affecting society, and what they mean to the fluid-power industry.
“I’m kind of a high-beam strategy guy, so I always think about what’s happening in the future, and how to position our businesses to be successful down the road,” he said. Likewise, executives and engineers need to monitor the changes in our world, to take advantage of opportunities and avoid the pitfalls.
Consider that we’ll have another billion people on the planet by 2025, noted Price. Where they live and work may cause a sizeable shift in the global economy. Worldwide, 1.5 million people leave the countryside and move to cities every week. That demands massive infrastructure investments, and has consequences for agriculture, energy and transportation. Where does that take us in terms of technology?
Climate change and resource scarcity are also important topics, sometimes highly contentious, he added. “But it’s just common sense that humans on this planet make an impact. We all have to be thinking about what that means and how can we become more sustainable,” Price stressed.
This creates opportunities for fluid power, he said. Tomorrow’s machines need to be “smarter,” safer, easier to run and, perhaps, a lot more autonomous. The people who grew up on farms operating skid-steers and backhoes are being replaced by people who didn’t. How does that affect the way we design machinery?
Major OEMs are already implementing strategies to meld machine and digital technology to make equipment more productive, efficient, safe and sustainable. Developments like predictive maintenance can reduce machine downtime and repair costs by up to 30%. We need to think about the impact of hardware digitization on our businesses, and how to use it to our best advantage, said Price.
There’s still substantial value in fluid power in terms of power density and energy-storage capabilities, and a wave of innovation could be game-changing, he said. For instance, hydraulic pumps with electric drives are extremely precise and highly efficient, valves with embedded intelligence provide unprecedented accuracy and performance, and hydraulic hoses predict when they will fail. These are just a few examples of next-generation fluid-power technology.
Finally, said Price, we need to think about sustainability—everything from noise levels on machines to using resources wisely and leaving our world in better shape for the next generation. Areas like manufacturing and transportation have a lot of inefficiencies and unsustainable systems that must be addressed. Politicians aren’t the answer, he said, it’s through science and engineering that we’re going to holistically solve these problems. In particular, Price challenges next-generation engineers to be fearless about tackling these problems. “Let’s be bold in our conviction to make a difference in fluid power and the path that we lead the world to 2025, 2035 and beyond.”
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