Member Visit Underscores Need for Innovation in the Fluid Power Industry

Eric Lanke NFPA CEO


By Eric Lanke

A few weeks ago I found myself in Western New York—flying in and out of Buffalo for my meeting with the Canadian Fluid Power Association—and, as such, I decided to go visit my friends at Moog. This was long before the snows came—it was, in fact, a gorgeous fall day—but whatever the weather, this is always something I’m interested in doing—coupling my many trips around the country with visits to NFPA member companies. It gives me a chance to talk face-to-face about what NFPA is doing. More importantly, I get to listen to what our members are saying about their needs and their view of the marketplace.

Sean Gartland runs Moog’s Industrial Group, and he is a member of the NFPA Board. He has, in fact, just taken over as chair of the NFPA Board’s Strategic Task Force on Technology. I met with Sean and several members of his team, and we talked about several trends in the fluid power industry, including how our customer markets are moving increasingly towards a need for engineered solutions from their supplier base. Moog, as a supporter of the NFPA Foundation and the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP), is just one of the many companies in the NFPA that is helping our industry better prepare for that challenge by building a knowledge base and innovation platform that can help deliver educated workers and opportunities for new product development to the marketplace.

We talked a lot about the new committee structure that NFPA is building in partnership with the CCEFP—a committee structure that will better engage industry in the decisions and direction that is needed to grow the academic resources the CCEFP has begun building and harness them for the talent and product development needs of our industry. Our Roadmap Committee will identify the broad areas of pre-competitive need, while the Industry Engagement Committee will work with CCEFP schools to select and shepherd research projects based on those needs, and a new Steering Committee will work with CCEFP leadership to broaden the base of resources that the CCEFP can pull from—both new sources of government funding and new universities and researchers with the facilities and expertise to tackle our most pressing needs.  It’s a structure that’s designed to engage as many stakeholders as possible and it’s beginning to get its sea legs under it. As of this writing, a total of 50 companies across NFPA’s membership and our industry’s customer markets are actively engaged.

I also got a tour of Moog’s production facility in East Aurora, NY. They probably don’t want me sharing many details of what I saw there—but I was impressed (as I typically am when I visit an NFPA member production facility) with the level of complexity and organizational planning that goes into guiding products out of the supply chain, through production and into the marketplace (and sometimes back to the maintenance and repair division for refitting and continued life).

The tour also provided an example of the sometimes surprising and sometimes obvious places that innovation can come from. As part of their commitment to lean manufacturing, the team of engineers and production people at Moog had created a flowchart that showed every step of their procurement, production and delivery process for one of their core products. It was hand-drawn on flipchart paper and post-it notes and it covered a blackboard-tall section of one wall for over thirty linear feet.

At lunch we talked about the kind of individual who can get their head around that level of complexity, and Sean said that they’re increasingly hard to find, but that you have to start with the people in the trenches. They’re the ones closest to the actual problems. If you’re going to innovate—strip actual costs out of your processes—you can’t do it from on high. You’ve got to give the front-line people the tools they need to do the job (flipchart paper and post-it notes, included, I guess) and trust them to make the right decisions.

Seemed like good advice to me.

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