For more than 60 years, Hydraulics & Pneumatics magazine has been a leading information source for designers and users of fluid power and motion control systems. PUMPED UP sat down with editor Alan Hitchcox to learn what a new year, new President and new media environment means to the hydraulics industry.
PUMPED UP: If President Obama follows through on his pledge for job creation and repair of the U.S. infrastructure, what impact will it have on the hydraulics industry?
ALAN: That’s a big “if.” Public construction projects have been carrying much of the hydraulics industry through a tough economy. Construction and repair of our infrastructure depends heavily on hydraulic equipment, and every hydraulic system needs at least one pump. However, I don’t see President Obama and Congress introducing spending programs massive enough to have a substantial impact on the hydraulics market in the near future.
How is the heavy equipment market shaping-up? What challenges will foreign competitors pose?
I think the weak global economy has tightened the money supply and made companies more cautious about capital expenditures, which could reduce the amount of heavy equipment being purchased. Plus, I think many companies have already purchased new equipment to head-off having to buy more expensive, higher-tier emissions equipment that meets stricter regulations. I look at the worldview as a threat and opportunity. Yes, offshore companies will continue to introduce more sophisticated machines and components that will threaten domestic manufacturers. However, I also believe that some of these countries — especially India — will become consumers. This could enable domestic manufacturers to set-up shop overseas to serve that demand.
Can companies like Parker locate and train the talent they need as conditions improve and the purchase of new equipment increases?
Yes, I think a large number of young people with bright minds will continue to be drawn to engineering, design and fields essential to the industry. I think we’ll continue to see an increasing number of these students coming in from overseas countries.
What innovation do you anticipate from the hydraulics arena in 2009?
I think we’ll continue to see more widespread application of hydraulic fan drives to make diesel powered equipment more fuel efficient. A weak economy and lower fuel prices may delay their introduction, but I think the value of hydraulic hybrid drives makes them inevitable for our future. As they become commonplace, continuing R&D will make them even more effective.
How will the pursuit of alternative energy solutions impact the hydraulics industry in the short and long-term? What risks/rewards do you anticipate for hydraulic system component manufacturers?
Hydraulics is widely used in many alternative energy systems. I think it’s an area for growth, but I don’t see it becoming revolutionary. I could see steady growth in the U.S., but I’m not sure it will offset some of the areas where hydraulics has been displaced by other technologies. I think it would be risky to invest too heavily in this or any single technology.
The demise of print media has been foretold for more than a decade. Will newspapers and magazines ever cease to be? How have your own readers’ habits changed in recent years and how have you adapted?
I’m a firm believer we should never say never…so yes, I do think that print media eventually will disappear, but not in our lifetime. Hydraulics & Pneumatics began embracing online content in 1996 when we launched our Web site. Five years ago we began offering readers the option of receiving their monthly issue in an online format. Less than 10% of our subscribers have crossed over, but I expect the percentage to steadily rise over time.
There’s no question that the online version makes it far easier to search for an article published years ago. However, most subscribers still value the portability and convenience of a printed magazine. It’s much faster to read a printed magazine than it is to view the same material digitally. And because we’re all so busy, I think the majority of people will continue to receive their regular dose of fluid power technology from the printed version of H&P.
Hydraulics & Pneumatics now hosts an online forum. Can social media in fact benefit the fluid power community in coming years?
Absolutely. However, I think many people tend to give too much credibility to information they learn on the Web and in blogs. This opens the opportunity for a plethora of misinformation. As people begin to realize the value of high-quality information, I think they will tend to rely more heavily on a few trusted sources rather than results from a search, unknown Web site or forum. This is the unwritten mission statement of our Web site: to be not only the most complete source of fluid power information, but to be the most accurate and reliable.
What I really like about forums is how they bring people together who might not otherwise have the opportunity to share ideas. For example, our forum is populated with mechanics looking for sources of components and advice on how to work on equipment. We also have electronics people hoping to learn more about hydraulics as well as experts who not only provide valuable advice, but also learn from others. For example, hydraulic systems for mobile equipment feature many design characteristics that differ from those used in automated industrial equipment. By sharing their techniques, forum participants are learning new techniques and expanding their knowledge to help make their jobs easier.