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Fluid power in a state of flux

Fluid power in a state of flux

Larry Huetsch is the Vice President of Operations and Engineering at Hoerbiger-Origa Corp. A patent holder on an early ABS braking system for tractor/trailers, he has devoted his thirty-year engineering career to the development of systems involving the marriage of pneumatics and electronics. He joined Hoerbiger-Origa in 1994.

Pneumatics and hydraulics technology continues to change and evolve, meaning more challenges for engineers as they cope with myriad choices and the trend toward more outsourcing.

DESIGN NEWS: You were involved in the design of some early braking systems that combined electronics and pneumatics. Can you envision a day when electronics will completely replace pneumatics or hydraulics?

Huetsch: From the day the first integrated circuit was invented, there has probably been discussion about electronics replacing technologies such as pneumatics and hydraulics. But I don't think that will happen-there have been sufficient advancements in these traditional technologies that they continue to be a viable solution. In fact, pneumatics and hydraulics often come together with electronics to provide a whole new class of solutions for today's engineering problems. And in some cases, pneumatics or hydraulics may be the only solution for a particular application. However, all these choices just add to the complexity of the engineering process-the trick is to identify which is the best solution for a particular problem.

Q: Has the trend toward outsourcing of more of the engineering research and development effort impacted your industry? If so, how?

A: Increasingly, engineers at OEM companies are looking for systems solutions-as opposed to merely purchasing the individual components and integrating them on their own. One factor influencing this trend is that technology is getting more complicated and there are more choices out there. When engineers wanted to move something from A to B in the past, they had a limited number of choices in how to accomplish it. Now, they have more options. They can do it mechanically or electronically, or use pneumatics or hydraulics. Or in an increasing number of applications today, they may use any combination thereof. Suppliers today who understand these different solutions have an advantage because they can bring their expertise across a whole range of technologies to the project.

Q: Does the trend toward more outsourcing mean the role of the OEM design engineer is changing?

A: Absolutely. Many of the engineers that we are dealing with today are doing less engineering research and development-that work is shifting downstream to suppliers like Hoerbiger-Origa. The engineer today is becoming more of a project manager or a systems integrator. Even so, engineers today at OEM companies need to know enough about the basic engineering requirements of the system to be able to communicate to their suppliers basic information such as rates and speeds and accelerations. They also have to be able to understand how the subassemblies and components will work together as a whole.

Q: Obviously the role of the supplier is becoming more critical in the design process. How can engineers ensure that they pick the right one?

A: Do their homework and find out specifically what the supplier's capabilities are! Find out about the technologies and services the supplier has to offer, what customers they have worked with in the past, what types of projects they have been involved with, and whether or not those projects had favorable results.

Q: What do you see as the next biggest trend in fluid power technology?

A: The growing use of electronics in fluid power applications is not a new trend. However, although we have made headway in the area of electronics, I think that we still have a long way to go in terms of learning how to effectively exploit the technology in order to deliver performance benefits and bring down the cost of systems.

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