1. In your view, what are the current key talking points areas (eg. areas of innovation and technological advancement from a fluid power/compressed aid systems/distribution perspective)? (maybe focus particularly on developments that have occurred during 2011, if possible)
Innovation and ensuring technical advantage is a continuous process for all leading companies within our sector. Bosch Rexroth for example, spends approximately eight percent of its sales revenues on research and development year on year, along with its parent company the Bosch Group. The key focus for much of this R&D activity in terms of fluid power is energy efficiency, safety and noise reduction. These are all increasingly important in terms of the modern day demands made by our OEM’s and end users.
An example of a 2011 development is the Rexroth axial piston unit. They are designed to support compliance with strict emission standards such as the new Tier 4 legislation in Europe which targets emissions from vehicles such as off-road construction machinery.
Additionally in 2011, our hydraulic experts worked hand in hand with the Bosch diesel specialists to improve energy efficiency. There is a growing convergence between diesel engine technology and hydraulic control systems, in terms of construction machinery and other mobile equipment. We are cutting fuel consumption by up to 20%, despite the complex and demanding movements of heavy duty machinery.
2. How have end users’ or OEMs’ requirements for systems and equipment changed in recent times – and why? (maybe focus particularly on developments that have occurred during 2011, if possible)
OEM’s and end users are demanding more from themselves and therefore from their suppliers. Over the past few years, the emphasis has been put on total solutions, rather than products and modules. This has meant that suppliers such as Bosch Rexroth have had to adapt to these demands. For instance, this might mean expanding services to be able to advise on energy efficiency with Bosch Rexroth specialists recording and analysing power consumption in a given factory to deliver develop efficient solutions.
Such demands on OEM’s and end users in terms of efficiency, safety and productivity need to be increasingly satisfied, often with decreasing in-house technical resources. Therefore, it is necessary that all suppliers, including those in Fluid Power, step up their game and are able to offer a more holistic and solution based approach.
In 2011, Bosch Rexroth went through a worldwide restructuring programme. The company, formerly structured into four product units (Hydraulics, Pneumatics, Electric Drives and Controls and Linear and Assembly Technology) has now been restructured into market segments and sectors. The key objective being to be align with market trends in terms of the growing demand for complete solutions that often involve multiple technologies. The new Bosch Rexroth worldwide organisation now has only three market orientated business units – Industrial Applications, Mobile Applications and Renewable Energies.
We believe this new structure will help Bosch Rexroth to be as successful in the future as it has been in the past.
3. Are fluid power companies fully exploiting opportunities in foreign markets? If so, in your view, in what ways? If not, in your view, what are they doing wrong?
Most successful companies are directly or indirectly exploiting the foreign growth markets such as the BRIC countries ie. Brazil, Russia, India and China. Undoubtedly we in the UK are an integrated part of Europe and the worldwide market in terms of manufacturing. The key to success for all suppliers is to think globally and act locally. Even international operators such as Bosch Rexroth, who are present in over 80 countries, need to continually adapt to the global market demands.
It is becoming increasingly necessary to act across borders and continents in a seamless and coordinated manner. For example, a recent Bosch Rexroth steelworks project was ordered and engineered in the UK, produced in the Czech Republic with final assembly and commissioning in Asia. Such demands for global acting companies mean that standards, IT platforms, terms and conditions of contract etc. need to be harmonised to ensure that customers are offered consistency in quality of goods and services, regardless of the country of origin.
4. How are fluid power solutions markets (construction/off road, manufacturing, civil engineering, agriculture, offshore, public sector, etc.) fairing in the current economic climate, from your perspective?
Bosch Rexroth targets a wide range of market sectors from mobile machinery to the industrial and renewable energy markets. his balance has been a protective blanket against the cyclical nature of the UK manufacturing business. Of course in 2009 all sectors reduced significantly during the worldwide economic crisis. However, since 2010 we have seen a satisfactory growth in all business sectors.
Mobile construction machinery has led the way, with a rapid recovery from the depth of 2009 to record volumes in 2011, which signified a complete recovery from the crisis. All sectors performed extremely well in 2011, ensuring that Bosch Rexroth reached record business volumes in the UK.
2012 will undoubtedly be more uncertain due to a slowing in the world economy and the financial debt crisis, which is still hanging over the European Union. Most UK manufacturers are reasonably positive regarding t the next six months at least. The views certainly from key customers of Bosch Rexroth UK seem to be more optimistic than we read in the press. Of course, we cannot expect significant year on year growth as we have had in 2011, but we certainly have the view that business volumes will remain strong in many of the targeted market sectors despite the darkening clouds over Europe.
5. Do you have any additional views on the current European and/or World economic situation that you would like to share (eg. how the European or World economic situation might resolve itself over the coming few years, or how it might become more severe)?
Most certainly all economies, including the UK, have needed to take heed of the lessons coming out of the 2009 crisis. It is clear that mistakes have been made in terms of the integrity of the essential financial systems, which are the life blood of all businesses. The issues in Europe must be cleaned up and solid frameworks put in place to regulate these shortcomings.
If we learn lessons from the past, then the future for all manufacturing businesses will benefit positively. From a UK perspective there is a more acute awareness of the imbalance in our economy and the need to ‘make more’. Hopefully Britain will continue to attract foreign investment, due to its good skills base and its competitiveness, especially within Europe. However, to do this we cannot be seen to sit “outside” Europe.
Many future opportunities exist in the UK within the engineering sectors, provided we address the issues facing manufacturing such as skills shortages. The newly developing offshore wind power programme is an example of where we will need many UK engineers to solve the tremendous challenges that exist in revolutionising electrical generation and distribution in the UK.
6. What are the strongest and weakest end-user sectors within the fluid power systems and equipment at the moment? And why do you believe this is the case?
The strongest sectors will continue to include the construction machinery sector, driven of course from a worldwide demand in infrastructure and investment projects, especially in developing countries. The offshore and marine sector will also be amongst the most buoyant sectors in the short and medium term, not only relating to the high oil price but also due to the increasing activity in UK offshore renewable energy. The automotive sector will also bring opportunities as OEM’s continue to have sufficient confidence to invest in the UK. The weakest sectors may be those which are less reliant on export and more on domestic consumption, such as food, beverage and packaging.
Hopefully UK manufacturers will continue to sustain reasonable business volumes into 2012, despite the uncertainties in the markets. It will be the innovators and global players who will lead future growth. It is these companies in all market sectors which Bosch Rexroth are aligned to serve and they are the reason why we are confident about continued growth in the UK.