Member Visit Underscores Need for Innovation, Diversity in the Fluid Power Industry

Eric Lanke NFPA CEO


By Eric Lanke

My travels recently took me to Madison, WI, so I decided to swing by Cummins Filtration in a little town outside of Madison called Stoughton. Barry Verdegan was my host, who has been involved in fluid power standards for a long time, and is now the chair of the U.S. TAG to SC 6 of ISO/TC 131. That’s a fancy way of saying he leads the effort to identify the U.S. position on standards related to hydraulic filtration and contamination.

The first thing I noticed when entering Barry’s office were the thirty or so plaques that covered one of the walls. Upon closer examination I realized that each one commemorated one of the patents Barry either developed or helped develop during his career at Cummins. Cummins, he said, is very focused on new ideas and innovation.

500_PERCENTSo is NFPA, I said. In fact, we’re trying to build and sustain an innovation platform for the U.S. fluid power industry. It’s called the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power, and I was happy to tell Barry about how, through the CCEFP, we have added more than 100,000 square feet of fluid power laboratory space to our nation’s universities and increased the output of engineers with advanced fluid power degrees five-fold. And it’s those graduates who are now being hired by fluid power companies (like Cummins), quickly getting up to speed and working on projects that can put patent plaques on their office walls.

People of different backgrounds bring new ideas and new ways of looking at old problems.

We also talked about the need for more diversity in that engineering workforce. Diversity means innovation, Barry said, quoting a Cummins catchphrase. People of different backgrounds bring new ideas and new ways of looking at old problems. And although we’re beginning to see more racial diversity in the engineering workforce, certain races still seem absent, and gender diversity remains elusive.

Turns out both NFPA and Cummins are beginning to address that problem through targeted outreach activities. Barry introduced me to Jayne Fischer, the person who coordinates the Women’s Affinity Group (WAG) for Cummins Filtration—a group of women in the company who reach out into their community and try to introduce young girls to engineering and engineering careers. I told her about the NFPA Fluid Power Challenge, the outreach program in our Foundation that engages 8th grade students in a fluid power-themed design/build competition. One of our guidelines in that program is that each 4-student team should have at least two girls on it, I said. And, in my experience, it’s the teams with girls on them that usually do well in the competition. They’re generally more organized, more serious, more competitive than some of the boys at that age.

Just the kind of people our industry needs.

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