By Eric Lanke
The NFPA Technology Roadmap is a document that describes an industry-wide consensus regarding the pre-competitive research and development needs associated with improving the design and function of fluid power components and systems. It is used by the NFPA and the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP) to guide their research efforts, by NFPA members and other industry partners to inform decisions about research partnerships and product development, and by academic, government, and other organizations that wish to pursue research and development projects of importance to the fluid power industry.
This year’s process to update the document began in earnest at the April 4-6 CCEFP University Summit at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. There, 29 members of the NFPA Roadmap Committee participated in an initial roadmapping session, where two key elements of the Roadmap were reviewed and discussed:
Customer drivers are the business or technology objectives of fluid power customers. They help them serve the needs of their own customers, or end-users, and are not necessarily connected to their use of fluid power. The 2015 NFPA Technology Roadmap identified four customer drivers as common to all fluid power customer markets:
- Increased productivity and performance
- Increased availability/up-time
- Lower total and life cycle costs
- Increased ease/predictability of maintenance
In reviewing recent trends in fluid power’s customer markets, and in discussing what end-user needs they might reflect, session participants believed that these four customer drivers were still valid for all fluid power customer markets. However, two additional customer drivers were identified:
- Quieter machines
- Machines that are compliant with safety regulations
It was proposed that the 2017 NFPA Technology Roadmap be built on the foundation of these six customer drivers.
Research challenges are the broad areas of attention that must be addressed if fluid power is to meet or better meet the customer needs described by the drivers. Participants first reviewed the six research challenges that were identified on the 2015 NFPA Technology Roadmap:
- Increasing the energy efficiency of fluid power components and systems
- Improving the reliability of fluid power components and systems (e.g., increasing up-time, reducing maintenance requirements, making fluid power safe and easy to use)
- Reducing the size of fluid power components and systems while maintaining or increasing their power output
- Building “smart” fluid power components and systems (i.e., ones that perform self-diagnostics and troubleshooting and that integrate easily with “plug and play” functionality)
- Reducing the environmental impact of fluid power components and systems (e.g., lowering noise, eliminating leaks)
- Improving and applying the energy storage capabilities of fluid power components and systems
Through a discussion exercise, the session participants validated that these areas of research challenge still had strong connections to the identified customer drivers. In other words, it was confirmed that improvements in each of the areas of research challenge would increase the ability of fluid power to meet one or more of the customer drivers. Recognizing, however, that new customer drivers may be best met by new areas of research challenge, the participants also discussed other areas where improvements would increase the ability of fluid power to meet the customer drivers. As a result, two additional areas of research challenge were identified:
- Fast and accurate control
- New materials
While important, the results of the April 6 roadmapping session should be considered preliminary. In the weeks and months ahead, NFPA will be organizing members of the full Roadmap Committee into eight working groups, one for each of the eight areas of research challenge. Over the course of a yet-to-be-scheduled conference call, each working group will:
- Review their assigned area of research challenge and confirm its connection to the customer drivers.
- If necessary, define the area of research challenge in greater detail, ensuring that it is distinct from the other seven areas of research challenge.
- Review and discuss advances in their area of research challenge that have occurred over the past two years.
- Review, discuss, revise, and prioritize the list of research targets and objectives for their area of research challenge. Do they all represent fruitful areas of research investigation for this area? Are they stated as specifically as possible, while still maintaining a focus on pre-competitive inquiry? Are they in a priority order that reflects their likelihood of success?
A description of our overall process, including a link to the full report from the April 6 roadmapping session, can be found here: http://www.nfpa.com/fluidpower/fluidpowertechnologyroadmaps.aspx
All donors in the NFPA Foundation’s Pascal Society are invited to appoint a representative to the NFPA Roadmap Committee and be part of the process that updates and publishes the 2017 version of the Roadmap. A list of Pascal Society donors can be found at: http://www.nfpa.com/nfpafoundation/pascalsociety.aspx
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (414) 778-3351 if you would like your company to get engaged in this process. In addition to helping the industry produce a document that shapes and advances its research agenda, the process itself is a great education and networking opportunity for engineers and technicians across the fluid power supply chain.