“An attractive sector“
Last fall, Christian Kienzle was re-elected as chairman of the Fluid Power Association. ke NEXT spoke to him about his view of the fluid industry as well as the future prospects of hydraulics and pneumatics.
Let’s talk about Industry 4.0: Is this buzzword also an issue at your VDMA, in the Fluid Power Association?
Clearly. This is a very, very crucial issue, even for us. How does our sector react to the concept Industry 4.0 as supplier? In the system design, the sensor technology will play an increasingly role for determination of data and the electronics will be the basis for the setting of algorithms in the control of the systems in the pneumatics and hydraulics. We will determine data to control the systems or to allow controlling themselves on their own. We want to be constantly informed about the operation of components and systems. The idea is to remain sustainable as fluid technology but furthermore to present our industry as an attractive industry.
This is very important also in view of tomorrow’s employees. We will not only try to maintain and expand contacts with the universities. We also want to appeal more strongly to the relevant colleges, which maybe have been neglected a bit in recent times. It is important to me to present our sector as an attractive industry. Some people say the industry should be „sexy“ for the young people. And here we sometimes have a little trouble, finding the optimal display in the classic old hydraulics.
What does the professional Fluid Power Association do in this area?
It is very important to further expand the research fund fluid technology. This was also my main goal, when I was elected for the first time. I think we have done a very, very good job. The research fund now is almost self-supporting and it is just nice to see how the many projects at the different universities can be accommodated in the meantime. We provide the institutions at our universities the opportunity to offer attractive conditions. Students and doctoral candidates can work in their institutes in pre-competitive research and recognize how fluid power components go into systems and how these systems act in complete machines – both in mobile hydraulics as well as in stationary hydraulics.
What do you see as future-oriented field for the hydraulics?
The hybridization. This sounds a little reprehensible for a chairman of the Fluid Power Association. We just see that the fluid technology has got its strengths but also its edges – as indeed other technologies also have. In Industry 4.0, the fluid technology will play an important role in modified form. And we need to adjust quickly. So we should actively support the hybrid technology and make it interesting.
Let us take a look at the fluid sector as a whole. How do you assess the current situation?
It is definitively mixed. On the one hand we have the pneumatic sector, which is currently doing very well, which has grown by about nine percent in 2014. Companies obviously invest, mainly in the automation, which indeed corresponds to the idea of Industry 4.0. The hydraulic sector however has markets that do currently not look good. There are the deflationary effects that we have in commodity sector. Mines are closed in order to keep prices. Oil is currently very inexpensive what does not really animate to build more oil rigs. China is in tunneling, mining or construction not as strong as it used to be, there seems to be a massive overcapacity regarding construction machinery manufacturers. Not much may be expected, even though the Chinese government has now cut interest rates and wants to launch new major projects.
How does it look in the agricultural technology?
Due to the good harvests we have low prices in agriculture, which means that harvesters and tractors are not so much in demand.
In addition, we have a conflict in Ukraine, in a very strong agricultural-oriented area. In the past, many used machines have flowed into these markets. But new tractors are not bought if the old ones cannot be sold. From this side we really have a very inconvenient time at the moment.
But the German fluid technology is always innovating and coming into new products. In addition, the American market luckily runs relatively well. Therefore, I am personally of the opinion, that the growth of hydraulics 2015 will oscillate somewhere around the zero point.
This interview was published in the magazine KE next / No. 4