(From the Aug. 8, 2011, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
AKRON (Aug. 9, 2011)—The ability to predict hose failure has been a decades-long goal in the hydraulic and industrial hose arena.
Because of the rugged applications that hose products often are subjected to, failure can mean anything from expensive downtime in applications such as mining or oil and gas, to potentially catastrophic health, safety or environmental events when a high-pressure hydraulic hose bursts.
Now two of the top hose companies in the industry—Gates Corp. and Eaton Corp.—are simultaneously marketing separate technologies aimed at addressing the problem, albeit taking slightly different paths.
Eaton is touting its LifeSense hose, a patented hydraulic hose condition monitoring system developed in conjunction with Purdue University and the Purdue Research Foundation's Office of Technology Commercialization. Eaton said the beauty of its system is it doesn't rely on mathematical calculations to predict when a hose is going to fail, that it actually can detect when a hose is nearing the end of its useful life.
Doug Jahnke, Eaton product marketing manager, has been in the hydraulics hose industry for more than 30 years, and the issue has been a topic of discussion the entire time. “What LifeSense does is it gives us a method of actually measuring and monitoring things that are going on inside a hose that we determined in laboratory testing virtually always lead to ultimate failure of a hose,” he said.
Gates at the same time commercialized what it calls its Sentry Services program. The two-tier service includes both Gates' Sentry ID system to track specific hose assemblies and its Sentry IQ technology, which can be used to monitor the spikes in temperature and pressure in hose assemblies and calculate remaining hose life and identify hoses for replacement before failure occurs. Gates said the systems can be used for any type of hose.
“Simply from having decades worth of test data, we understand what the impacts of those spikes have on hose life,” said Barry Shockley, Gates director of hydraulics coupling capability. He added that having 30 to 40 years of test data available was invaluable in putting together the algorithms utilized in Sentry Services.
The genesis for Eaton's LifeSense product development was laboratory tests that indicated that most replaced hoses still retained 50 percent or more of their useful life. Because end users feared hose failures and the consequences, Eaton found that most were taking the traditional route of using time-based replacement programs that meant literally millions of feet of hose were being removed from service prematurely.
The engineering staff at the Eaton Hydraulics Group's technology center in Maumee, Ohio, worked with Purdue researchers on the project. Both are members of the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power, an organization focused on improving hydraulic technology and education.
The group of researchers monitored hose properties and started to notice some consistencies in changes that occurred right before hose failure, according to Mike Beining, an Eaton project engineering manager and team leader in the new product development group.
“As we see those changes in those properties, that's when we're able to provide the notification that the hose failure is imminent,” he said.
Purdue took out the initial patent on the technology, which identifies changes in certain electrical properties of a hose that reliably indicate it is approaching failure. Eaton, which also has patents associated with LifeSense, has exclusive license for the Purdue patent. The company said use of this technology won't just significantly reduce the incidence of catastrophic hose failures, but will bring down overall operating costs by eliminating the replacement of hoses with substantial remaining operating life.
The LifeSense system includes a new hose with at least one conductor in its construction, a special end fitting that serves as both a hydraulic and electrical connector, and a diagnostic unit containing the monitoring electronics and operator notification interface. The initial product has the diagnostic unit hardwired to the fittings on the LifeSense hose assembly, and one diagnostic unit can monitor inputs from up to 11 hose assemblies.
While it theoretically can be used on a variety of hose types, Eaton will start by offering it only in hydraulic hose assemblies with straight JIC swivel fittings in three common sizes.
Beining said the development work has been going on for about three years. One of the difficult challenges to overcome was that the hose now has to serve two functions: both as a hose and as part of an electronic circuit.
“That's not an easy task,” he said. “It did take going through quite a few design iterations because we were doing something nobody had done before.”
Gates' Sentry Services
Shockley said that Sentry Services is a step outside the box for Gates. After a century of being a company that concentrated on developing new products, this technology truly is a service offering, he said.
Sentry ID is a radio frequency tagging system that allows field service personnel, mobile equipment operators and fleet managers to identify and track specific hose assemblies. Shockley said it can be used in less-critical applications and facilitates quick location, repair and replacement.
Sentry IQ initially is being aimed at the mining and oil and gas industries, and continuously monitors the pressure and temperature information to estimate how much of the hose life has been used. It uses a proprietary set of algorithms and can warn of out-of-specification service conditions. It doesn't, the company cautioned, warn of damage caused by abrasion, abuse, climate or other external conditions, which must be determined by onsite inspections.
“This is looking at the hose from the inside-out,” Shockley said. “Traditionally you've only been able to look at hoses from the outside-in, and see if you've had anything wearing on a hose to try to gain any indication on how much hose life there might be.”
Combining the information from Sentry IQ with manual hose inspections, he added, “gives you a very good picture of the remaining hose life.”
Shockley discounts the thought that hoses being replaced prematurely is a major issue. A hydraulic hose assembly may run just a few hundred dollars, so most of the customers Gates is targeting with Sentry IQ are more concerned with what happens if a hose fails.
“That's been the driver for this,” he said. “Sitting in the customer's chair and recognizing when they're looking at their hose, they're concerned about failure. It's not about getting a $300 hose to last longer. It's what does that failure cost them in terms of production, in terms of personal injury, and in terms of environmental impact and the cost to clean that up. And when you start to sum these up, that far exceeds any kind of value you'd receive for making a hose last longer.”
Of course, putting an advanced technology on the market and getting customers to see enough value in it to make a purchase are completely different propositions.
Shockley said that Gates has found itself at times talking to the “wrong types of customers.” That is, those customers who aren't concerned about hose failure and find the best solution for them is just to keep an extra hose on the shelf.
So Denver-based Gates identified the mining and oil and gas sectors as the two best sectors to focus its initial marketing efforts. “When you have a production well that goes down for an hour or two, or a day, the amount of revenue associated with that is significant,” Shockley said. “It doesn't matter whether it's a hundred-dollar hose, a thousand-dollar hose, or a ten-thousand-dollar hose, that's sort of miniscule in the scheme of all the production revenue that's lost, not to mention any type of personal injury or environmental issues involved.”
And in mining, there are cases where a longwall or continuous mine may have only one particular piece of equipment per mine where failure can bring the entire operation to a standstill.
Gates also said being able to offer the Sentry ID services is an advantage because not every application brings critical consequences when a failure occurs. “There's a lot of detail that we can do within that database to properly track and manage hose assets so you stay on top of which hoses need inspection,” he said.
Customer response has been strong so far, according to the Gates official. Besides the two sectors it's targeting, the firm has received some interest in mobile hydraulics and other areas, but he said it's difficult to make sure enough value exists for the customers in those areas.
“You need to recognize those types of customers who are willing to pay for a premium service as opposed to those who would like it but aren't willing to pay for it,” Shockley said.
Gates has worked with development partners in both mining and oil and gas to prove that value in those markets exists. To date, he said actual sales—for both Sentry ID and IQ—have been focused in oil and gas. “They're seeing and recognizing the value, and that's why I think oil and gas is leading the way for us at the moment.”
Jahnke said one of the biggest challenges for Eaton has been determining how the customer wants to receive the alert that a hose needs to be replaced. While the company's LifeSense technology uses a wired connection, he said most customers say they'd like a wireless option that would send out the message.
Eaton is working on a wireless version, but that could be nine to 15 months away, he said. “What we'd like to do is get potential customers started with wired so they can gain an appreciation and a confidence level in the hose technology. The conversion of wired to wireless should be seamless.”
Jahnke said there has been tremendous interest from potential customers throughout the project and the firm is starting to receive orders for trial kits. None have balked at the potential price premium such a technology brings, although he said it isn't that much more than what they currently pay for hydraulic hoses.
“It provides such a huge value that it's ultimately going to save users from all of the costs associated with hydraulic hose failure far more than what they are currently paying,” Jahnke said.
Both Eaton and Gates officials have opinions on why they believe their way is better.
Shockley said the key advantage for Gates is that Sentry Services can be applied to virtually any hose and coupling assemblies made to Gates' standards. “I think that's been appealing to the customers we've talked to,” he said, noting that both coming out at the same time is beneficial in bringing the issue of hose failure to the forefront.
And Jahnke said LifeSense shines above because it is much more than an estimation process, and in the long run believes it will prove more valuable to customers. “Nobody else in the industry has that capability, so we're very excited about it,” he said.