ben hydraulic heroes

Ben Crofts - UK Production Manager (Hydraulic Systems)

What is your name and job role, describe your everyday activities, what do you typically do in a day and how long have you been in the industry for?

My name is Ben Crofts and I’m the UK Production Manager for systems and hydraulics. My typical day-to-day job is the realisation of products, which is basically overseeing all the steps in the production process, whether it’s the order entry, planning, order execution, build, test or quality of the end product. The role also involves development of the team and processes to support the needs and demands of the market. This has become more prevalent over the last 30 years that I’ve been in the industry It’s always a case of progress, progress, progress.

What is a system or a product that you are most proud of having worked on recently?

To be honest, I’m proud of everything the team builds and the care and commitment they put into it. We’ve covered products that support our UK lifeboat network and we have battery powered power units out there. We are also involved with emerging markets such as hydrogen generation; we’re starting to supply product into that, as well as offshore wind farms and turbines. But the stand-out product at the moment is one that we currently have on the shop floor. It’s a subsea template which is effectively a big drill rig that puts poles and structures into the sea floor to support the installation of wind turbines. So yes, that’s probably the standout right now.

What were some key challenges that you faced and how did you and your team overcome them?

In terms of challenges, the unit we are supplying the hydraulics into, and enabling the control of, is around 1800 tonnes in weight and 30 by 30 metres in size. This operates offshore, so it’s on deck. It’s also subsea and every drill operation they undertake has to be perpendicular to the earth’s core, so it’s completely vertical. If you ever look out and see offshore wind farms, you never see a tower falling over, it must be spot on. The challenge that this brings to us as a team is that it’s a meticulous build. It is out in the most arduous of conditions and when it’s out in the field, nothing can go wrong - we have to provide reliability. So, to summarise, we do ceiling concepts, rigorous testing and overall protective coatings on the power unit that is on deck, the three power units that go subsea as well as the control manifolds that are on there. As an overall package, our controls team came up with an amazing engineering solution and production followed that up with a quality product.

How does the product provide solutions to the customer, what are some of its benefits and key features for the customer?

The product itself is the third generation of what we’ve done before - we’ve done it with this and another customer, so it is an evolution. This is because, for the customer, it is all about speed of operation, reliability and saving costs across the board. The units and solutions we provided reduced their operating times significantly, whilst considering that they were operating and deploying from a ship/vessel. The day-to-day costs of running a vessel are immense because you’ve got all your fuels on there, but there is also the recovery time, the quicker you can get it out there, deployed and running, the better the saving..

What are you most looking forward to in terms of future projects and technical progress?

For us in manufacturing it’s three-fold really. Digitalisation is something we are really looking forward to, not just because we’re quite tech-savvy individuals on the shop floor in our department, but because digitalisation allows us to understand where we can improve our systems and processes. It’s a big push within Rexroth and it enables us to move forward to try and reduce lead times and what we have in terms of operational costs. But digitalisation is not there as a standalone, we also need to look at sustainable products being utilised within our manufacturing area - we have great interest in that. So, if we can combine reducing throughput time, simplifying the process, and reducing waste, whilst using economical and sustainable products that we can get in-house, then that’s fantastic.

The final thing we’re really excited about is the learning opportunities provided by the technology that comes through Rexroth. At the end of the day, it’s the people who make the difference. If we can encourage and train the people, then they become embedded in it. They start to look for where we can use the technology and therefore the focus is people-based, and that’s why it excites me the most - we’ve got a team who is really willing to accept it and work with it.

How has hydraulics changed/evolved over the years and what is new?

In terms of my working experience, and in recent times, I would say that the principles are fundamentally the same for hydraulics. Nothing changes there, but it’s the technologies that are brought in and the technologies it can be applied to. We’ve gone from what was an old, dirty-type industry which people believed was just consuming huge amounts of raw power, to becoming quite a smart and technologically advanced area within engineering; and the opportunities are out there to deliver systems that are sustainable, efficient and smart, and this applies to the whole product lifecycle; things aren’t just thrown away anymore..

What do you think sets Rexroth apart in the world of hydraulics, and what added value do we provide to customers?

What we offer globally, not just in the UK, is a huge team and a support network that can apply itself to all four corners of the earth so to speak. The benefit to the customer is that they gain from our vast experience and wide support network. They get the product as well as the best solution that they need. Whether it’s built in the UK or elsewhere, the quality is always going to be there, the solution is always going to be there and we don’t let people down. It’s as simple as that

What advice would you give to young people looking to work in hydraulics today?

It’s as simple as this: perceptions must change. Like I said, it’s not an old, dirty, power-consuming industry, it’s something that has a future; a future that’s based on technology, software solutions and everything else. Some of these solutions are like playing computer games - it should engage with the youngsters. There is also a gap in the market. Hydraulics engineering was dirty work once upon a time and no-one wanted to get into it, which created a gap. Now people are coming back into the industry through apprenticeships or by coming on board through the colleges, which is good, but for youngsters there is definitely an opportunity there. What I would say is, that they need to look at it and maybe carve a future out for themselves by defining the future of hydraulics. But as a company, they can reach out to us - whether it’s through the STEM ambassador programme, careers fairs or even by contacting us directly. We are open to developing the youth of tomorrow.

Learn more about digital solutions within hydraulics here

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