Kim Henderson's take on the upstream hydraulic hose business
Kim Henderson, commercial director of Gates Fleximak says standards and service responsiveness is what sets the best apart from the rest in the Middle East’s upstream hydraulic hose business.
What’s your contribution to the hydraulic hoses sector?
Well, we are not the cheapest in the market by any means, in fact we are probably the most expensive. But, importantly, our hoses are the best. If you want the machine to stay running all of the year instead of replacing your hose every three to four months, then you have to pay more. There are other good hoses on the market, but what we also offer is the expertise to compliment this.
How complex are the hoses you manufacture?
Primarily we work from port to port, meaning from the pump to the motor or one component to the next – if it needs a flexible hose then that’s what we provide. We also do all the fittings and the adapters for the hoses. The fitting is an individual piece that you swage or crimp onto the end of the hose. Inside the fittings you have sharp barbs that bite into the hose, and you also have this on the inside of the hose.
Then you have a rubber tube with a metal braid, mesh or spiral called the carcass, and finally you have the outer cover. They all work together to ensure the fitting stays on the hose and does not leak.
What materials are used for hydraulic hoses?
It is made of a number of different compounds depending on the application. Effectively it is rubber, but you will have a chloroprene cover, and if there are hydrocarbons a nitrol liner. If there is cement or mud that is running through the hose then you want a natural rubber, but that won’t handle hydrocarbons, it will just go soft and spongy and ultimately it will fail.
Do poor quality hoses make it to market?
Looking around the upstream industry in general, we have certainly found in the past a lot of the hoses in the market, including here in the Middle East, which are really quite below-par. What some manufacturers do is blend natural rubber with nitrol or chloroprene to make a cheaper product. This can be less than half the price of what we offer, but if you calculate losses of failure and downtime, which can be huge, then the cost advantage of our hydraulic hoses very quickly becomes obvious.
How important is complying with standards?
There are three elements to this: Firstly for critical applications and reduction of downtime, secondly for safety reasons, and thirdly to protect the environment. It has to cater for all three. Interestingly, the environmental factor is becoming more and more important as companies become more environmentally conscious.
What happens when a hose fails?
We provide a mobile onsite service, primarily for emergency breakdowns. There are guys with machines in the middle of nowhere, so it is better for us to go out and make the hose on site, otherwise it might take days. We are the pioneers of this onsite concept in the Middle East: We were doing it eight years before anyone cottoned on to the idea of an onsite mobile service.
How long can a typical hose be operational for?
A lot of customers ask us this, and we reply, “How long is a piece of string?” It depends on whether the hose is moving or is static, whether there are multiple impulses or a steady flow. We had a crane barge come in to the drydocks recently with not one failed hose, and they had been running from 11 to 12 years.
The main two factors that destroy the hose are pressure and temperature. Temperature though is the biggest enemy of a hydraulic application; even if the temperature rises by five degrees Celsius, this can cause the hose to fail in one-third or even one-half of the time.
Is there a way of predicting failures in the hose?
This is exactly what we are looking into at the moment. We have been working on a new system for the past two years. What we are pioneering is sensors that run down the hydraulic hose that transmit a signal back to a central box. This then processes the information and sends it via an aerial to a satellite, which in turn sends the information back to our central computer. The computer then creates an algorithm that can decipher the pressure, flow and the temperature, and then we can determine what the life of the hose will be. Its really exciting technology.