There's an excellent future awaiting the fluid power industry, says Collins, though the industry needs to do a better job of telling the world about its successes.
Design News: What is the role of the design engineer in your plans for Parker's future?
Collins: New product development is one of the cornerstones of Parker's strategy for internal growth. Building a "better mousetrap" that is unique or has value-added features is where the design engineer truly can make an impact. While design engineering once was a highly specialized, deliberate function, the trend today is to shorter development cycles and better cost management by generalists who regularly collaborate with customers and suppliers.
Q: How important are offshore sales to Parker now, and how important will they become over the next five or so years?
A: Parker Hannifin's worldwide sales represent about 30% of our total sales. With a significant boost from a large new European acquisition, our international industrial sales in fiscal 1996 grew 15.9% over 1995. So as you can see, they're very important to us as a global company--and will continue to be--as we focus on improving the market positions of our worldwide businesses.
Q: How can your company change the widely held perception of fluid power systems as leaky and noisy?
A: This perception doesn't accurately reflect the reality of today's systems. Developments in sealing technology and noise reduction in recent years have dramatically improved the performance of fluid power systems. Parker's leak-free fitting designs have been available for 10 years or more, for example. Hydraulic systems leak because people allow them to. Today, through face-seal fluid connectors, state-of-the-art shaft seal technology and regular maintenance, it's realistic to expect zero leakage from fluid power systems. To change perceptions, the industry must communicate its success stories--especially in ultra-clean applications such as semiconductor fabrication.
Q: What technical problems must be overcome to make possible the use of pneumatics for precise positioning?
A: The major challenge is the compressibility of the medium. However, with the marriage of electronic controls to pneumatic components, we're able to overcome the inherent lack of "stiffness" in the system and control position with greater accuracy. By using pressure and position feedback sensors and pneumatic servo and proportional control, the positioning accuracy of pneumatic systems has improved dramatically, and will continue to do so.
Q: What technical innovations can engineers expect to see from Parker Hannifin in the next few years?
A: We expect to see more expert systems and interactive design software used for both product applications and new product development. Customized product design should be easily accomplished by design engineers at their PC workstations via our global parts design network with little cost difference from standard products. Solid modeling design assistance will be offered to our customer partners, and more system designs will be provided by Parker.
Q: How likely is it that industry will use water-based fluids on a significant scale during the next five years?
A: While their environmental benefits are admirable, water-based systems are very expensive due to the limitations of components and the expense of non-corrosive materials such as stainless steel. Such systems tend to be used mainly in the food industry where the benefits justify the cost. We don't see a trend to these systems in the next five years.
Q: How likely is it that the use of electrohydraulics in mobile applications will become widespread?
A: It's already quite widespread, and as mobile electrohydraulic components become more tolerant of hostile environments, usage will increase. Their obvious productivity and reliability advantages, coupled with decreasing costs, suggest broader applications in the future, not just high-end.
Q: What problems does Parker Hannifin face in conforming to environmental legislation?
A: With properly designed, leak-free fluid power systems, along with appropriate maintenance and containment safeguards, complying with environmental regulations isn't that difficult. Parker supplies effective hydraulic filtration components that enable users to operate fluid power systems safely in many environments--including clean rooms. Alternate fluids are already being used with Parker hydraulic components. Environmental legislation presents Parker with new challenges, but also new opportunities.