Lorie Russo explains how Hydraforce has seen consistent growth in the manufacture of hydraulic valves and control systems.
Already with one of the most comprehensive lines of high-quality hydraulic cartridge valves for the mobile and industrial equipment markets, Hydraforce continually pushes the bar in product development in this category. This effort centers around its “group-technology” approach to product planning, design and manufacturing, This approach gives Hydraforce the ability to create many different product models from only a few basic parts.
Three individuals founded Hydraforce in 1985. They foresaw substantial growth potential in the manufacture of cartridge and hydraulic valves, and it turned out that they were right on the mark. After their venture was launched, these markets saw significant growth. The company’s current niche is off-highway uses, such as materials handling in the construction and agricultural markets.
Hydraforce supplies two types of electrically operated, high-pressure hydraulic valves. The first are on/off valves, and the second are proportional valves that vary output based on variable electrical input from a signal. The latter are gradually superceding on/off techniques, making machines more productive and offering smoother functionality, says Vice President of Marketing Dick Fontecchio.
Another technology for which Hydraforce is at the fore is microprocessing, in which machines are operated from an automatic/semi-automatic interface with electric controls with hydraulic actuation. “This is a new technology that has gained momentum in the last 10 years,” says Fontecchio, “but its use was prohibitive because of the cost of valving and electronics. It’s now been made more feasible. It makes for greater flexibility and rapid response.”
A just-in-time (JIT) manufacturer for years before it became an industry catch phrase, Hydraforce has perfected its fast, flexible manufacturer response. With 2000 sales at $94 million, the company has just added 50,000 square feet onto its Lincolnshire, Ill., operation, which includes a 15,000 square- foot office mezzanine. It is now in the process of building a new, 50,000 square-foot plant in Birmingham, England.
“The company itself is poised where we want it to be. We have the right product capability just waiting for the economy to turn around, and we feel we can handle major growth,” says Jim Brizzolara, Hydraforce’s president. “We have seen pretty steady growth since the company’s inception.”
Platform for Innovation
Hydraforce is constantly busy, never resting on its laurels and developing a new cartridge valve every two to two and one-half days. “We devise valves than can be modified according to customer needs and other valve systems that are breakthrough, representing an entirely new technology in design or function,” says Brizzolara. “We’re constantly releasing new platform products or derivatives.”
In the area of manifolds, he explains, Hydraforce is consistently devising ways to marry and integrate new products, released to the market on the average of two a day. Its Series E environmental coils are the latest innovation in coil technology, designed to meet the demanding requirements of mobile and industrial applications in which weather resistance is required. Series E coils feature new coil-winding technology that is perfect-wound and fully encapsulated. DIN, Deutsch and Metri-Pak® connectors are molded into the coil encapsulation. This molded connector design assures IP67 or IP69 weather resistance.
Hydraforce also offers electronic controls for hydraulic proportional valves. Many models are UL- and cUL-approved. Various control signal input options are available on DIN coil-mount models, IP65-rated PCB (board only) models, metal box enclosure models and multifunction, dual-solenoid driver, IP65-rated models.
At Hydraforce, the key to making high-quality products is in maintaining precise control of those operations that produce the fits and clearances in critical valve subassemblies. State-of-the-art preparation and assembly equipment enables the company to meet critical tolerances for more efficient hydraulic circuits. This equipment includes automated honing/bore-sizing machines capable of up to 0.00005 tolerances; automated parts cleaning and assembly equipment; and automated O-ring installation machinery.
Among the features of the integrated valve/manifold packages are no-leak, screw-in components, fast and easy valve removal and replacement, significantly reduced plumbing requirements compared with traditional hydraulic systems and optimally sized integrated circuits for enhanced design flexibility.
Sticking to Principles
Hydraforce traditionally has employed stringent quality control and testing. The company is registered to ISO 9001 and QS 9000 standards, and is one of only a handful of valve designers and manufacturers to have achieved this recognition for total quality management. “The key to growth is a good basis,” says Brizzolara, explaining that Hydraforce had been founded on the manufacturing principles that helped it to achieve these certifications. “We might be the only company of our kind that is QS registered. It’s not a common thing in the marketplaces we serve.”
Among the standards that Hydraforce follows is a 14-point check list that covers statistical process control of all critical in-house production processes and complete in-house inspection and testing equipment. Hydraforce also has ongoing supplier monitoring and certification to the QS 9000 standard; rigid in-process material tracking with bar-code identification and lot control; 100 percent final product performance testing; efficient JIT materials-handling procedures; and protective preservation packaging standards for all products.
With its consistent attention to the development of new and innovative products, combined with stringent controls and process monitoring systems, Hydraforce is continuing to grow. One of the areas of development at Hydraforce, in line with the growth of the Internet, is its e-commerce trade. As it aggressively pursues the hydraulic cartridge valve and custom integrated circuit manifold markets, the company is well on its way toward a goal of becoming the world’s leading supplier of these products.