Energy® Manufacturing began life as the quintessential American success story… inside a garage, of course. The year was 1944 and two partners from eastern Iowa founded a company that over the years has offered myriad products. These have included boat trailers, auto lifts, motor graders, dump truck hoists, backhoes, and hydraulic cylinders, valves, pumps, and power systems. The reins eventually landed into the hands of the Pasker family, which held onto them until 1985; 19 years later, a group of seven investors became the company’s fifth owners, taking the helm in 2004.
By that time Energy® had whittled its product line down to hydraulic cylinders, pumps, valves, and power systems. Today, 80 percent of what it produces involves hydraulic cylinder technology, with particular expertise in custom welded hydraulic cylinders for both stationary and mobile equipment. Customer applications are numerous, and include recycling compactors, refuse trucks, aerial lifts, snow and ice control equipment, on-highway trucks, lawn and grounds care equipment, material handling machinery, medical chairs and tables, forestry equipment, agricultural machinery, construction equipment, and many others.
Today headquartered in Monticello, Iowa in a 120,000-squarefoot (11,150 m2) plant – the last in a series of moves and expansions that were completed in 2006 – Energy® Manufacturing has perfected the craft of hydraulic components and systems. Dedicated solely to the manufacture of top quality cylinders, valves, pumps, and power systems, the plant layout and machining centers are configured for manufacturing and process flow efficiency, from raw material receiving to finished product shipment. The facility is also in ideal proximity to key suppliers, which helps to get customers’ orders shipped more quickly. Four of the seven owners also are active in the day-to-day operations.
From this base of technical and business aptitude, a series of milestones has flowed for the company. One, in 2002, involved the high-volume production of threaded-in guide type cylinders. This heavy-duty welded design has allowed Energy® to produce hydraulic cylinders rated to any working pressure its customers’ desire.
Energy® has also made advances in rephasing cylinder technology. Rephasing units are two or more cylinders plumbed in series or parallel, with the bores and rods sized such that all rods extend and/or retract equally when flow is directed to the first, or last, cylinder within the system. In parallel applications, the bore and rod sizes are always the same, and the cylinders are always used in pairs. In series applications, the bore and rod sizes may be the same or different, and two or more cylinders are used. This hydraulic synchronization of rod positions eliminates the need for a separate flow divider in the system, or any type of mechanical connection between the cylinder rods, to achieve synchronization.
“We have specific expertise in this area,” notes Vice President of Sales and Marketing Ken Rosenbecker. “Using rephasing, we can achieve the synchronization of multiple functions in a very efficient, compact, and cost-effective manner.”
Energy® has further excelled by designing and manufacturing electronic position-sensing or “smart” cylinders. In such units, the cylinder is married to electronic components that sense the position of the cylinder’s piston, and send a corresponding signal to the machine’s controller. “More and more equipment is being designed today requiring this technology – it is indeed an emerging and growing market,” said Rosenbecker.
One drawback of previous smart cylinder designs was that they required hollow rods to accommodate the electronic position-sensing components. The hollow rod reduces the buckling rating and mechanical strength of the cylinder. Energy has recently partnered with Rota Engineering Ltd., of Manchester, U.K., to provide an alternative, solving this problem. The new technology developed eliminates the need for a hollow cylinder rod. Instead, an external sensing “bar” utilizing Hall-Effect technology senses the position of the cylinder’s piston. This is accomplished by the placement of a permanent magnet within the piston. The magnet propagates a magnetic field through the wall of the cylinder, providing a locating signal to the sensor. Advantages with this approach are numerous. They include lower overall cost, and easier use and servicing (the cylinder is easier to assemble and install, and should the sensing “bar” ever need to be replaced, there is no need to disassemble the cylinder). In addition, no cables or wires are used, eliminating problems with stretching or breaking due to ice, plant limbs, or other environmental obstructions. There is also a wide range of input and output signals available. “We believe we’re on the cutting edge of this,” Rosenbecker says. Advances such as the positioning-sensing cylinders have helped Energy® to lead the field into a gamut of new applications.
In response to increasing global competition, Energy® has developed a valued partner in a Chinese company that was interested in diversifying its manufacturing base. As with many great deals achieved in business, this one was started with a handshake on a golf course. The result was the construction of a new hydraulic cylinder factory near Hong Kong, which today churns out cylinders, complementing Energy®’s Monticello production. This Chinese facility offers many of Energy’s customers with low cost country manufacturing capability. It is also well positioned to support OEM customers that have established or will be establishing manufacturing facilities in Asia. “We’re also looking at possibly additional partnerships and acquisitions to help grow the business,” said Rosenbecker.
Also, one little piece of identity the company maintains to this day is the Williams® brand name for hydraulic piston pumps and power systems. Williams Machine and Tool was a small company founded by David Williams in 1938 in Omaha, Nebraska. Where? Again, in a garage. Historically, Williams mainly served the truck body and equipment market. In fact, by the 1970s, Williams® produced piston pump/reservoir combinations for approximately 80 percent of the light-to-mediumduty farm trucks on the road, growing into one of the leading specialty manufacturers of a wide range of hydraulic pumps, power units and related components and systems for OEMs throughout the United States and Canada. Along the way, Williams® was merged into the Energy® fold, and the Omaha plant eventually closed and Williams® was moved into the Monticello facility.
Enhancing its expertise in hydraulic component and system design and manufacture, Energy® employs some of the latest design and system dynamics software. This includes AutoCad® 2-D and 3-D CAD software, which helps to speed parts selection and design documentation. In addition, complicated designs can be evaluated in advance of the prototype stage through the use of Finite Element Analysis (FEA) with ALGOR® software. These tools also enable adherence to the highest engineering practices, resulting in superior designs.
In addition, Energy® maintains a hydraulic testing laboratory for custom orders and for verifying new additions to its product line. Using controlled test equipment for life cycle testing, burst testing, impulse testing, mechanical load strength testing, and simulated field performance testing, this facility has flow and pressure capabilities to 60 gpm (227 lpm) and 5,000 psig (345 bar), as well as mechanical loading capabilities to 60 tons (120,000 pounds or 533,760 N). Such testing capabilities ensure sound design and proper material selection and construction.
As it seeks to conquer additional markets, Energy® Manufacturing also maintains a good sense of who it is, where it came from, and where it’s going. “We know what we’re trying to be and the market niches we serve,” Rosenbecker says. “We utilize some of the finest CNC machine tools in the world, and have some of the best people anywhere. Our goal is to be the best custom welded cylinder manufacturer in North America.”