by Eric Lanke
It was my great pleasure to help staff the first-ever “Future of Pneumatics” exhibit at the new PACK EXPO East trade show a few weeks ago in February 2015. With our exhibit partners Vanderbilt University and the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP), NFPA made a dramatic impression on the packaging machine builders and buyers walking the show floor.
In the picture on the right you can see Eric Barth and Josh Cummins, both of Vanderbilt, talking with one of those visitors. What they’re discussing is the demo of a new pneumatic exhaust gas recovery system—a way of saving the air typically vented to atmosphere and using it to perform useful work in the system. In the laboratory, the system has been shown to reduce air consumption by up to 25%, which we quickly translated into the marketing tagline: “Imagine turning off your air compressor one day week.” Click here if you’d like to review a more detailed description of future technology we showcased.
We kept track through the 3-day show, and counted 137 of these detailed conversations. And how did people react when they realized what they were looking at? I’d say the most common comments we heard were:
“My biggest customer would love this.”
“That’s the most innovative thing I’ve seen at this show.”
“Where can I buy this?”
That last one is really the crux of the matter. No one can buy this (yet) because it is a result of one of the pre-competitive research projects that have been running inside the CCEFP for several years now. But like a handful of other projects, this one is ready to move out of the pre-competitive space and be commercially developed by one or more of our industry partners. If you’re looking for some kind of market readiness study to justify the additional investment that would be necessary, I’d have to say the reaction from potential customers at the PACK EXPO East show could certainly serve that purpose.
NFPA is planning more of these types of exhibits at other shows in the future—each showcasing the future potential of fluid power technology to one of our core customers audiences. Like I experienced first-hand in Philadelphia, too many of our customers have an outdated understanding of fluid power’s capabilities. At PACK EXPO East, I saw the lightbulbs go on when we helped people add exhaust gas recovery and proportional control to the traditional benefits of pneumatic systems—things like high power density, reliability, and cost competitiveness. Those who might have dismissed fluid power are now thinking about how to incorporate it again, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to help them do.