27 May, 2022

Fluid Power and factories of the future

11 May, 2022

At this year’s Fluid Power & Systems exhibition, held at Birmingham’s NEC from 5 to 7 April, visitors were able to participate in a physical version of organiser DFA Media’s popular panel discussion series, Talking Industry. As well as continuing in its now firmly established virtual format, the exhibition saw the series’ successful expansion from the digital sphere to in-person panel discussions under the Talking Industry Live brand. Among the discussions that comprised Talking Industry Live over the three days of the show was a presentation titled Fluid Power and Factories of the Future, which was chaired by Paul Cooke, Interim CEO of the British Fluid Power Association (BFPA), with a panel comprising Martin Hoskins, Sales and Customer Development Manager at Bosch Rexroth; and Martin Costin, Drives & Networks Specialist at SMC.

To open the session, Paul Cooke explained that, like traditional factories, the future factory will have four walls, the floor and the roof. However, everything else will be flexible. “All the production and assembly machinery will be smart, connected, configurable and fully automated,” he said. “Moreover, in this factory of the future will be the next generation of production and maintenance managers and engineers. These people have been brought up in our digital world and are used to getting what they need using their smart devices.”

Fluid power – continuing to drive industry

Against this digital backdrop, Cooke is convinced that fluid power will continue to play a critical role. “This is one of the key issues that I like to impress – fluid power is important and will continue to drive industry,” he said. “We will be as important tomorrow as we are today. Fluid power supplies the control and motion to ensure production in the UK keeps moving, and about 60% of production in the UK in part depends on fluid power solutions and products – many of which are displayed in this exhibition.”

Cooke pointed out that the fluid power industry represents about £1 billion in terms of total market value in the UK and Ireland. “So, today we remain very important and the way the industry adapts going forward is of course extremely important not just for the fluid power industry but also to UK’s prosperity,” he said.

Cooke added that the fluid power industry is very diverse, explaining that there are manufacturers and suppliers who focus predominantly on mobile machinery, the construction market supplying valves and transmissions. There are companies active within the industrial hydraulics market supplying valves, controls and transmissions. There are also manufacturers and suppliers who focus on actuators – whether they be hydraulic, electro-hydraulic, pneumatic or electro-pneumatic. Additionally, there is industrial pneumatics where we see a lot of automation and mechatronics. There are also manufacturers who make hoses, fittings, pipes and connectors – important for transmitting the power backwards and forwards within the fluid power systems. Cooke also highlighted the importance of filtration equipment to keep everything clean and working efficiently. “So, when I talk about the fluid power industry, I’m really talking about the diversity of all the people that are in these two exhibition halls – but we have one thing in common and that is fluid power,” he stressed. “We’re one family with fluid power at our heart, but we have a lot of diversity.”

Smart connected solutions

Cooke made the point that although our industry remains, and will continue to remain, critically important, it must continue to adapt and develop to remain highly competitive on the world stage while keeping UK industry moving. “Today, we have devices and controls that are smart, intelligent and can deliver data in real-time to the plant,” he explained. “This data can help the factory of the future, for example, in terms of production cycles, production efficiencies, promoting plant monitoring and preventive maintenance as just a few examples. So today, we can supply smart, intelligent, connected solutions and devices from our industry in terms of fluid power.

Cooke spoke of the importance of control systems utilising open dialogue protocols. “From a smart device or desktop computer you can change the production cycles of the machine,” he pointed out. “The future won’t be like it was in the past where if you wanted to change the production cycle, change the parameters or introduce a new product to the manufacturing process you had to reprogram a PLC. This might take days and involve very expensive reprogramming. Today, we can change the system parameters from a tablet PC using open protocol. So, we have many solutions for the factory of the future, solutions that fit the Industry 4.0 framework.”

Smart factory control

Continuing the theme of networks and connectivity within the context of the factory of the future, Martin Costin, Drives & Networks Specialist at SMC, spoke about pneumatics in terms of smart factory control. As well as outlining the different types of valve manifold systems SMC provides and their benefits to end users and OEMs, Costin also stated that there will continue to be a place for pneumatics in machine production. “There has been a lot of movement towards electrics, but for reliability and proven robustness I think pneumatics will always have a place in industry, and there are many technical advancements being made in pneumatic componentry – smaller, lighter valves, and new energy-efficient vacuum injection systems,” he said. Costin then explained how these pneumatic components are being integrated into fieldbus networks and what advantages this is going to bring in terms of Industry 4.0 and smart factories of the future.

Modern intelligent hydraulics

Martin Hoskins, Sales and Customer Development Manager at Bosch Rexroth, then spoke about connected hydraulics and their place within the factory of the future framework. “When we think about connected hydraulics and the factory the future, words such as permanent or fixed, or even phrases such as jobs for life, are old and not suitable for the new approach to business,” he said. Hoskins added that we have to start looking at words such as flexibility, modularity, quietness and efficiency. “These are all words that benefit the environment and benefit industries, and this is where we’ve got to go,” he said. “Through the years, we’ve worked very closely with various companies in production and have learnt that IOT has a very forward-thinking benefit to designers, solutions providers and also the end-users and OEMs. By working together, we can develop the digitalisation fight for the future. We need to grasp and develop this digitalisation age.”

Topical themes

The presenters then engaged in a lively debate with delegates, covering questions such as: are we adopting Industry 4.0 technology quickly enough?; when we compare the UK to nations such as China or the US are we behind or ahead of the curve in terms of adapting to automation?; and are we embracing the benefits that come from the modern use of the data? Cooke then rounded off the proceedings by thanking the presenters and delegates for their valuable input. The wider debate continues, of course, and the BFPA is available to address any questions members might have regarding the above themes.




Buyers' Guide Search
Search for UK supplier by name
Browse by Product Group.
APRIL/MAY 2022 Issue To view a digital copy of the APRIL/MAY 2022 issue of Hydraulics & Pneumatics Magazine, click here.

MARCH 2022 IssueTo view a digital copy of the MARCH 2022 edition of Hydraulics & Pneumatics Magazine, click here.

For a FREE subscription please click here

July/August 2021 Annual Buyers' GuideTo view a digital copy of the JULY/AUGUST edition of Hydraulics & Pneumatics Magazine, click here.

For a FREE subscription please click here

BFPA YearbookTo read the latest BFPA Yearbook, click here
Talking Industry events in 2021Talking Industry Events in 2021
BFPA Training AcademyClick the image to go to the BFPA Training Academy website
Compressed Air & Vacuum Technology Guide 2018To read the official BCAS Compressed Air & Vacuum Technology Guide 2018 click here
Offshore Europe JournalOEE
Super Swivels
Impulse Automation Limited was established in 1960 and is based in the United Kingdom. We are an importer and distributor of mechatronic components used in a wide variety of industry sectors.Impulse Automation Limited
Hy-Pro FiltrationWEB LOCATOR