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Eaton's LifeSense making inroads in hose industry

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Eaton's LifeSense hose assemblies
More than 50 people representing 15 distributors have come to Eaton's Maumee, Ohio, location this year to be trained on how to make their own LifeSense hose assemblies. Eaton requires distributors to be certified in the new technology to be able to make and sell its own assemblies.

MAUMEE, Ohio—Slowly but surely, Eaton Corp. P.L.C.'s LifeSense-brand hydraulic hose condition and monitoring system is making its way into the marketplace.

More than 50 people representing 15 distributors have gone through training courses at Eaton's location in Maumee this year, and the firm has started shipping orders over the last few months, according to Mike Beining, Eaton engineering manager for new product development in its Hydraulics Hose & Fittings business.

Eaton unveiled the LifeSense technology in 2011. Available in either a wired or wireless version, it is designed to detect failure-related events within a hose and to notify the end user the hose is near the end of its useful life. Each hose fitting has a sensor to monitor hose conditions via electrical signals that go to a diagnostic unit, which interprets the data.

The LifeSense system then generates an alert when it is determined that the hose should be replaced. Eaton said the system can boost useful hose life by 50 percent, protect workers, maximize uptime, make maintenance operations more efficient and provide environmental benefits.

For distributors to be able to make their own LifeSense hose assemblies, personnel must be certified. “You can buy hose assemblies through Eaton, and we can make them for you,” Beining said. “But if you want to make it yourself and have your own equipment, you need to go through the training first.”

The two-day classes at Maumee provide both hands-on and classroom training. “At the end you have to pass a test and physically make up a certified LifeSense hose assembly to prove you can make it yourself,” he said.

Feedback from the sessions has been positive, and distributors have been able to learn more about the new technology. “When you see a brochure or article, you don't really learn all about it,” Beining said. “A lot of this is hands-on, and they're really able to touch and feel the product and get a sense for how everything works.”

And for the most part, he said distributors prefer to have the option of making the assemblies themselves rather than buying ready-made products from Eaton.

“They want to be able to make their own hose assemblies so they can be better prepared,” the Eaton official said. “They want to be able to replace the hose themselves right away rather than place an order through us. It gets the product closer to the end user, and they have it ready to repair when it's needed.”

The number of people taking the training—offered for the first time early this year—has been about what the firm expected. Eaton will continue to work with the distribution base, Beining said, to make sure everyone is aware of the product, and the firm will continue to offer training classes.

Technology out in the market

With the training underway, customers are starting to place orders for LifeSense. “As people are getting certified, we're getting our inventory into place, and now we've been shipping inventory out,” he said.

Interest is starting to pick up, but the technology is so new that everybody “kind of wants to see it and get a feel for it first before they dive into it headfirst,” Beining said.

Eaton is using both push and pull strategies to market LifeSense.

“We've had a lot of conversation with end users,” he said. “The end users are typically the ones who have the pain points. They're the ones who have to deal with the downtime, with the potential safety issues out there or the environmental cleanups. We're definitely working with end users who are helping to pull the product.”

As the same time, Eaton is working with OEMs to show how it offers a better value proposition on their product lines, so they will push the technology out there, he said.

Thus far there has been a lot of interest in the turf care industry, especially at higher-end golf courses such as the Greenbrier Golf Club in West Virginia. There also has been activity in the ref-use, oil and gas, and mining markets, along with such applications as hydraulic security gates.

“We've been working with customers for a couple of years in various applications,” Beining said. “Through all of this time, we have not had any field failures out there. We have prevented numerous field failures from happening.”

And when alerts have sounded the impending end of a hose product's life, testing at Eaton's labs has confirmed that failure had been imminent, he said.

Now that LifeSense has been launched commercially, Eaton will ensure customers have everything they need to be successful. The firm will continue to seek additional applications related to safety and environmental cleanup.

“We believe LifeSense is the leading edge of technology out there where people are looking for more diagnostic and monitoring of their equipment,” Beining said. “This is a product line that gives them that ability.”