By Eric Lanke
In October, the NFPA Board of Directors gathered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to review our progress towards fulfilling the association’s mission of strengthening the fluid power industry as defined in the five strategic objectives approved by the Board back in June:
NFPA provides an effective forum for fluid power manufacturers, distributors and suppliers to advance their collective interests.
NFPA provides its members with timely and accurate industry statistics and business intelligence that support improved decision-making.
NFPA provides opportunities and resources for its members to promote the unique strengths and inherent advantages offered by modern fluid power technology.
NFPA helps increase the number of technically trained people capable of integrating and applying fluid power, and connects them to careers in the fluid power industry.
NFPA helps increase the number of university engineers educated in fluid power, and connects them to careers in the fluid power industry.
For each of these objectives the Board also defined a set of success indicators. These are the metrics by which we will measure our success.
Since June, the NFPA staff and I have been hard at work setting discrete goals for the year and developing action plans for accomplishing them. As previously reported by Marc Weston of Danfoss, this year’s Board chair, those action plans now include a tight focus on two key initiatives:
- Improving the value proposition for our distributor members.
Distributors, especially those that provide system integration, engineering or other value-added services to our customers, are an increasingly vital component of the fluid power supply chain. More than a dozen years ago, NFPA reshaped itself to better include these channel partners in the membership and activities of our association. The wisdom of that decision is more clear today than ever before, but several institutional barriers to their full integration persist. Over the course of the next year, our Board has resolved to remove those barriers, meaning that we not only will be asking more of our distributor members, but also delivering an improved value proposition to them – more programs and services tailored to their unique needs.
At its October meeting, the NFPA Board reviewed and approved a plan to increase the relevance of our Annual Conference programming for distributors. This plan currently includes the following enhancements:
- An additional session on the first day of the conference with Joe Ellers, a consultant who works with distributors on a wide array of topics, from strategy development to building a more effective sales force. As part of this session, Ellers will conduct a follow-up call/webinar with the audience about 30 days after the conference.
- Chris McChesney, of the 4 Disciplines of Execution (or 4DX), as a general session speaker. McChesney will talk about how the 4DX framework for more effective execution on strategic initiatives is relevant to both distributors and manufacturers. In addition to his general session talk, we’re also working with McChesney to conduct an afternoon workshop for those interested in more depth on 4DX.
- Peter Zeihan, of Global Geopolitics, as a general session speaker. In addition to offering us his high-energy and well-researched predictions about geopolitics, we’ll be working with Zeihan to focus his thoughts on the future of global agriculture, manufacturing, and finance, and how they will affect the U.S. economy and markets.
- Additional general session speakers (yet to be confirmed) on channel strategy and strategic pricing, harnessing the power of voice of the customer research, and the practical implications of OEM’s growing embrace of Internet of Things technologies and capabilities.
In addition to these Annual Conference enhancements, the Board also approved a plan to create and launch new industry statistics programs specifically for our distributor members. Two such programs are in the works – one that will help distributors benchmark with others based on key financial and operations indicators, and a second that builds upon the State of the Fluid Power Industry survey to add more concrete trend indicators to the general predictive indicators currently offered.
- Connecting our members to the new talent being generated by our workforce development strategy.
Through our many different programs and partnerships, more undergraduate and technical school students are being educated in fluid power than ever before. Based on our initial estimates of workforce need within our membership, those numbers, in fact, are approaching those that should be necessary to satisfy that need. And yet, many, if not most, of our members tell us that they still struggle to find the fluid power talent they need to keep their businesses growing. In survey after survey, the creation of a fluid power-educated workforce still represents the biggest challenge their companies face.
We’ve already communicated that our successful financial partnership with the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP) will be coming to an end at the close of our current fiscal year. With two new federal programs launched that can provide substantial fluid power research funding to our CCEFP and other academic partners, NFPA’s attention will be turning more fully toward the continued growth of validated fluid power education programs within undergraduate engineering and technical school programs. The ongoing financial support of our members will be key to success in this area, but so will their active engagement as mentors and hiring managers.
At its October meeting, the NFPA Board reviewed and approved a plan launch a new FAMTEN Hub in the coming year. FAMTEN, the Fluid Power and Applied Mechatronics Training and Employment Network, is a program that will seek to stack three successful fluid power outreach and education programs in the same community. A middle school outreach program will raise awareness, a high school education program will develop initial competencies, and a two-year tech school training program will deliver the skill sets NFPA members are looking for. Our plan calls for launching the tech school portion this year at Waukesha County Technical College, with the middle and high school portions coming online in the following year.
With regard to four-year undergraduate programs, in the months ahead, our University Education Committee will be meeting monthly to help us determine the specific elements that are essential to educating undergraduate mechanical engineers in fluid power and to help us review the fluid power curriculum products developed by past teaching, laboratory and curriculum grants to determine which can be best positioned as those specific elements. Once the committee has finished this work, we will have a defined curriculum model for teaching fluid power in mechanical engineering programs and a suite of aligned curriculum products that can be shared across our educator network.
All in all, it was an effective and engaging Board meeting, tightly focused on the objectives and plans that matter most to NFPA members. The next Board meeting will take place in February 2018 in Orlando, Florida where the Board will continue to review and develop these initiatives.