Wanting a better product at a lower cost is not a new phenomenon in the off-highway industry. However, there is definitely a push today for improving machine productivity with the goal of greater reliance on data coming from key systems. This trend calls for advanced technology and automation without dramatically increasing equipment cost.
While challenging, this transition is driven by the impact of today’s consumer experience. As consumer technologies become more prevalent in modern life, and as operators are increasingly performing less operation and more monitoring of equipment, OEMs are challenged to provide more comfort features.
Consumer electronics and automobiles drive the demand for vehicle interface, networked communication, and interior fit-finish expectations. Such features include touch screens, integration with consumer electronics, voice control, and a quiet/comfortable and safe operating environment. All of these demands place unique constraints on the OEM equipment manufacturer and create new challenges for the entire industry. Key factors that must be considered include increased automation and software-based optimization; improved battery technology; lightweighting of new materials/assembly technology; and deeper vehicle systems integration including the penetration of sensors, communication, and control into more vehicle components.
As if these challenges aren’t enough, OEMs will be challenged to meet stricter government regulations on environment and personal health/safety, which will continue to drive the development in areas such as more fuel-efficient propulsion systems. Such regulations will force OEMs to improve their vehicles with solutions such as hybrid or electric engines, better human ergonomics, active safety systems, operator assistance technologies, and more. These challenges can drive up costs in the midst of a market seeking a lower cost of ownership.
To meet all of these challenges, there is increasing interest in the use of automated systems that can react, adjust, and optimize to changing operating conditions. Integration of electro-mechanical and sensing technologies has already proven to be a viable solution. As machines use more automation and control, up to and including becoming autonomous, sensors enable the operator to obtain feedback on vehicle performance and conditions that would have had previously been needed to be perceived directly, somewhat later, by the operator. Such “smart” components and systems are capable of monitoring and optimizing their own performance.
Those wanting to compete in the industrial market must expand their expertise beyond components to system-level design. This involves developing a strong understanding of electrical, electro-mechanical, sensing, and control systems. For a technology and manufacturing firm like Lord—a company with a 90 year history of developing adhesives, coatings and motion management devices—these changes have required investment in people and technologies.
Lord has a long history of passive devices in the industrial, aerospace, military, electronics, and other markets, but recognizes it is now necessary to integrate systems and control competencies that complement our hardware expertise since sensing is such an important part of the evolution of today’s machinery. Key to our success has been our ability to quickly identify and address competency gaps via acquisition of two sensing companies in the last 18 months as well as internal development of magneto-rheological and active noise control technologies. Developing strong partnerships with both customers and suppliers and integrating them earlier on projects is necessary to create an environment that fosters innovation.
Andrew J. Winzenz, Director, Global New Ventures, Business Development and Strategy for the Oil & Gas and Industrial Equipment industry group at Lord Corp., wrote this article for SAE Off-Highway Engineering.