From left, Guy Enta, Gabriel Orta and Andreas Gerstenberger unveil the new crimper at Continental's hospitality suite during NAHAD.
MARCO ISLAND, Fla.—Andreas Gerstenberger has never been shy about spreading the message that the world is changing, and new technology should not be seen as a threat, but embraced as opportunity.
The ContiTech executive vice president and head of the firm's Industrial Fluid Systems global business unit said parent company Continental A.G. has led the way by showing how a traditional and successful rubber and component maker can transform into a services and solutions provider.
And ContiTech is proving that digitalization is a concept that can be applied in a wide range of applications by developing a cloud-based crimper controller for use in the hydraulic and industrial hose markets.
The CrimpIQ controller was introduced with high fanfare during the ContiTech hospitality event April 29 during NAHAD's annual convention. The new crimping technology, Gerstenberger said, will enable the firm to provide customers with instantaneous updates to the crimper, reducing costly downtime while boosting efficiency, safety, quality and speed at customer operations.
Conti has been working on the technology for several years, some of that work with Custom Crimp, a crimper manufacturer based in Valparaiso, Ind. Conti purchased Custom Crimp effective last Nov. 1, allowing work on the project to move even quicker, according to Gerstenberger and Guy Enta, vice president and head of the Americas region for ContiTech's Industrial Fluid Solutions business
ContiTech's CrimpIQ controller provides remote maintenance and updates.
"It became very clear to us in our strategy that we're very proud of our traditional hose business and we continue to invest heavily in it," Enta said, "but we need to be more active with our distributor partners on assembly solutions. If we truly want to provide smart solutions through our distributor partners into the marketplace, it can't be hose only. We have to work together with them to focus on the whole assembly, which is why the Custom Crimp acquisition became very obvious and strategic to us."
The connected technology—where the monitoring process of the new crimper is entirely cloud-based—may surprise a lot of ContiTech distributors that viewed the firm as a traditional hose manufacturer. Enta said the message the firm wanted to get across at the NAHAD unveiling was that while ContiTech remains a top-notch producer of hose, it—like parent Continental—is a technology company.
"We can leverage the technology side and bring it to our hose business so our distributor partners have the best of both worlds," he said.
Gerstenberger added that "the thought process behind this is how can we create new business models and solutions together with our customers to the end consumer so that business—not only in terms of value creation but also in terms of ease, quality, predictiveness and safety—comes to the next level."
And when looking at the specific process of crimping, where fabricators put the hoses and fittings together, he said it is a process with much potential for error and traditionally has been a manual operation.
Along with the assistance from Custom Crimp, Gerstenberger said having the backing of Continental, which employs 15,000 software engineers globally, was key to the project. That allowed ContiTech to quickly develop and launch the cloud-based solutions, along with the connectivity and the step-by-step guidance for a full eco system—not just a machine—to the hydraulic and industrial hose markets.
"We did not have to go to external companies and ask them how cloud-based solutions should look like," he said. "We have this expertise in our corporation."
Enta said the CrimpIQ technology—offered not only as a new system but also as a retrofit on existing crimpers—is a big leap forward for a process that has stayed relatively the same for decades.
"Think of a machine that is always connected, always has up-to-date assembly specs that can offer two-way communications between us and the distributor, and our end-user customers," he said. "We can update the crimper remotely if requested by the user. We can communicate with it to monitor maintenance, and we can communicate with it to monitor the crimping process and introduce quality systems down the road."
With it being cloud-based, Enta said the crimper can be an ever-evolving solutions platform, and as ContiTech develops new technology, those upgrades can be seamlessly deployed on the connected machines.
Gerstenberger said this cloud-based technology opens up a wide range of possibilities for ContiTech and its customers, be it for storing historical crimping data in terms of quality, what has been crimped and who has crimped it. That will provide invaluable documentation to end customers and aid in enhancing quality and safety control systems.
"You still have to physically connect the rubber with the metal, but we want to make this smart, documented and forward thinking, and almost create a never-ending story with adding services and values because you're part of this growing eco system," he said "If you look at the value chain and fluid business, then the crimping itself is one of the key value-adding steps in that chain. And if you are part of this one key milestone in creating a fluid solution, then you can add value to the entire system."
At ContiTech's customer and internal meetings, Gerstenberger said the leaders are clear in acknowledging the business world is extremely volatile, with ongoing digitalization and economic changes. Technology such as artificial intelligence clearly is on the horizon, and some may be afraid of what those changes mean in their business areas.
"What we try to do is take them proactively, turn them around, and create something good out of it, which helps our customers and ourselves create value," he said. "And I think we as a company with our strong base here in North America have the means and the attitude and the people to do that."
Distributors weigh in
Prior to the CrimpIQ's debut at NAHAD, ContiTech had three of its distributor partners "test drive" the new technology. And the feedback has been extremely positive.
"It really blew us away," said Rob Lyons, president of Tipco Technologies Inc. in Owing Mills, Md.
He said ContiTech has been trying to secure Tipco's business in the food and beverage assembly hose sector, and Tipco was ready to buy a standard crimper from them. But ContiTech instead shipped them the digitalized model for testing as one of the first to hit the market.
"When it came in, they did training with the Custom Crimp personnel," Lyons said. "The training curve was very fast and easy to understand. Our assembly team embraced it immediately. They love it and they're not afraid of it. It captures historical data, which covers us in the event there is some sort of accident or failure. That's a peace of mind, not just for Tipco Technologies, but for our mutual customers alike."
Lyons said he had been looking for what he termed the "hydraulic-ization" of the industrial hose market, and this was the first crimper to accomplish that. He said the beauty of the CrimpIQ technology is that it's a fluid technology, that such things as outer diameter settings are updated automatically as soon as new settings are placed in the cloud. "So we don't have to worry about updating hard copy manuals or logging in every time we get a crimp spec," he said.
Lyons said there are some other cloud-based technologies in the market, but nothing that is this advanced. "It's turnkey to us, and in reality that saves time and it should free up man hours for us," he said. "We're early in that process, but time will tell."
Tompkins Industries Inc. was another firm involved in the beta testing phase of the project. Alex Binnebose, the firm's retail sales/warehouse manager at its Des Moines, Iowa, site, said ContiTech was proactive in incorporating his suggestions on the technology.
"The interface was really good," he said. "There were a lot of steps that I had them get rid of. I'm trying to make it as user-friendly as we can, so pretty much anybody who really needs to do the job can just go into it, and boom-boom, everything is set in order."
While the computer input is a great aid, Binnebose said it's also important that the techs still understand which hoses go with which ends and dies. He said the pop-up options written into the CrimpIQ help with this, and overall the technology is a large step forward.
"Everything is right there at your fingertips," he said. "It's definitely pushing for the future."
Continental's service also is helping to set it apart from the competition, according to Binnebose. "If you have a problem, there's an option on this crimper where you can take a screen shot and send it right to them. Someone is on it right there. They walk you through the options and what it could be. It's just been a lot of help."
Enta said interest since the NAHAD launch has exceeded expectations, with ContiTech receiving orders well beyond its forecasts. He said the firm has "smart crimpers" operating in four states, and also has seen an uptick in quotes and requests for face-to-face and web meetings, and site visits to the Custom Crimp facility in Valparaiso.
He said customers seem most interested in ease of use, connectivity, transparency and quality when considering the CrimpIQ.
Gerstenberger said the whole project is evidence that standing still is never an option, and partnerships with others—such as the Custom Crimp acquisition—are increasingly vital. "You can't do everything, because you simply do not have the financial, equipment and people resources to do that," he said. "So partner with those who have similar mindsets—distributors, customers—and work on this new value creation, because if we don't do it, somebody else will."
Rubber News wants to hear from its readers. If you want to express your opinion on a story or issue, email your letter to Editor Bruce Meyer at [email protected].