The National Fluid Power Association (NFPA) reports that U.S. fluid power imports have grown 65% and exports have grown 45% in the past five years. Although the U.S. runs a fluid-power trade deficit with many of its global neighbors, manufacturers are finding growing markets throughout the world, bringing the total of fluid power products sold to more than $11 billion in 2000. While global markets may help increase the bottom line, designing products for culturally diverse markets presents a daunting challenge for design engineers.
Boggling hog noggins. "A big challenge has been controlling complexity so that we can manufacture the different configurations required by the various nations," says Bruce Roberts, a mechanical design engineer at Harley-Davidson (Milwaukee, WI). The company uses hydraulic brake systems, oil pumps, and shock absorbers in its motorcycles (HOGS(TM)) that are regulated by the same global agencies governing the truck and automotive industries.
|"We are an American icon and so must be careful to retain important styling queues when designing international products," says Harley-Davidson design engineer Bruce Roberts. Shown here is a 2001 Harley-Davidson International model.|
Roberts believes that U.S. manufacturing companies are just beginning to confront the massive task of developing international regulations that will reduce the complexity of motorcycle configurations. Because Harley-Davidson motorcycles are used on public roads throughout the world, Roberts says that the company faces diverse standards, which are mind-boggling. "When certifying for vehicle noise for example, we must test five different standards in order to supply our vehicles to our world markets," he says.
Designing a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for international markets requires constant collaboration among design teams around the world. Roberts works from the Willie G. Davidson product design center in Milwaukee, but remains in touch with teams around the world. "We use videoconferencing, phone calls, e-mail, and on-site or off-site meetings to enhance communication," he says. His advice to other engineers is to stay close to the customers and the markets in which customers are located for quickly reacting to changing customer desires and international regulations.
Deere sees trees and forest. The challenge of meeting local regulations and standards is very significant to international design, according to Derek Eagles, a senior project engineer for electrohydraulic systems at John Deere's Product Engineering Center (Waterloo, IA). "Understanding the different applications and uses of our product throughout the globe cannot be over emphasized," he says.
Eagles points out that one tractor used in North America for utility applications may be used for heavy-duty tillage and earth-moving applications in developing regions of the world. "It is imperative that we understand these types of issues early in the product development cycle," he explains.
|One of fluid power's biggest market is in construction, where equipment manufacturers like John Deere use hydraulics for brakes, power steering, and boom attachments in tractors, excavators, and front-end loaders sold around the world.|
Eagles and other engineers at John Deere gain understanding of local markets by forming local organizations and employing nationals. "They are in a better position to understand all the forces that come to bear on their markets," says Eagles.
Thanks to an intranet-accessed tool at John Deere called JD MindShare, Eagles and other engineers at John Deere are also plugged into a global picture of what's going on in hydraulic design. Engineers enroll as members of specific "Communities of Practice" and hold regular events for encouraging collaboration. "We hold an annual hydraulics-users conference where John Deere engineers from around the world give presentations to their peers," explains Eagles. They also conduct design reviews over the World Wide Web.
In some cases, John Deere has adopted a modular approach to design with compatible interfaces for subsystems and components. Eagles adds that John Deere prefers adoption of ISO standards because they simplify the process of worldwide compliance with local standards.
"We are working to eliminate the national and international standards that overlap," says Karen Boehme, the International Standards Development Manager at NFPA. "As an organization, we are helping adopt international standards." That's good news for Deere, HOGS, and other animals around the world.