Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio – The hose industry is set to evolve very fast over the next decade, according to Guy Enta VP and head of Continental AG's Americas region for the ContiTech Industrial Fluid Solutions.
The impact of automotive trends and the increasing use of plastics in hoses; changes in how the internet has impacted the industrial world; and the future of connectivity, are among the key contributors to the anticipated change, said Enta in a keynote speech at the recent Hose Manufacturers Conference in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
"We've all seen a lot of changes, but I see a lot of changes coming," Enta said.
The good news, he said, is that the hose business will always be there and always be viable.
“I think if you can adapt with technology to those changes, you not only can survive but you can thrive in the business," Enta added.
From a product standpoint, looking at automotive engine compartments, temperatures are higher, the need for fuel efficiency is greater and the desire to make products more environmentally friendly have driven changes in materials.
In his time in the industry, Enta said he had seen four compound changes, from nitrile/neoprene to epichlorohydrin elastomers and chloroprene, and now to Vamac fluoroelastomers.
With the advent of electric mobility, Enta said the engine compartment has more room and there may be more opportunities for hoses.
ContiTech, for instance, has assembled a solution for hybrid vehicle cooling using a hose that is more than four metres long.
The shifting of the automotive industry away from internal combustion engines to EVs also will have other, less obvious consequences.
For example, the ContiTech exec said his firm currently sells a lot of petrol pump hoses, with one factory having a third of its volume in the product.
With the growth of EVs, Enta said he expected fewer petrol stations in North America in 20 years’ time.
"Right away we see impact," Enta said. "Twenty years from now or 10 years from now, one of the quickest ways to not be successful in business is to get an increasing share of a decreasing market."
In addition, the industry is seeing a spillover effect of the increasing use of plastics in the automotive sector.
“Automotive drives volume, volume drives technology and technology invariably spills over into the industrial side of our business," Enta said.
ContiTech has invested close to $10 million (€9 million) in the production of plastics hoses at its US manufacturing facilities and also recently closed on the purchase of the flexible hose business of Daverio, Italy-based Merlett Group for an undisclosed amount.
The other technology change to impact the industrial business marketplace has been the transition of the internet from a place to get information to a commercial venue, according to the ContiTech VP.
Five years ago sites like Amazon and Alibaba did not have a major role in offering industrial equipment, but according to Enta, this is no longer the case, particularly on the industrial and hydraulics side of the business.
"What I see is the relationship with our customers is important… [but] not as important as being fast and being efficient with customers," Enta said. "So speed now officially trumps relationship."
Connectivity is another changing force, with smart hoses which have the ability to know when they are going to fail, reorder themselves and arrange for the replacement to arrive before their failure.
"I haven't found a manufacturer who is there yet, but one of the things we've come to realise is there is no such thing as a smart hose, there's only such a thing as a smart hose assembly," Enta said.
ContiTech is currently using data to track quality and the number of hose assemblies, but down the road the firm hopes to be able to feed the supply chain information about demand.
"As data gets more sophisticated, we want to use it to feed our R&D teams to help them come up with the solutions of the future," he said.
"We still haven't realised the holy grail to feed product development and feed a seamless supply chain to our customers."