Quiet, Clean and Rental

Oct. 1, 2010
With demand from customers for quiet pumps, EPA regulations requiring cleaner engines and the growing trend towards rental, pump manufacturers tell RER how they are growing their businesses.

Interview participants

Bill Thompson, president, Thompson Pumps

Mike Grant, portable products and rental market manager, Tsurumi Pumps

Ron Askin, vice president sales, Godwin Pumps

Per Ohstrom, vice president marketing and business development, Godwin Pumps;

Marc Leupi, product manager, utility, Wacker Neuson

RER: What is new in your product line technologically?

Thompson: Beyond the multitude of changes that are being mandated to comply with EPA regulations regarding exhaust emissions from diesel engines, we are progressing rapidly with improvements in sound attenuation with new versions of our Silent Knight models. We have achieved significant reductions of from 3 to 7 dbA on many models. These noise reductions will be appreciated immensely by operators, contractors and neighbors in the vicinity of jobsites throughout North, Central & South America.

In addition, as other “Green” features, we have incorporated what we are terming our “Oil-Less Vacuum Technology” by specifying oil-less vacuum pumps on many of our dry priming units, and we have redesigned the impellers and volutes on many models to achieve higher efficiencies resulting in substantially lower fuel costs for the end-users.

From a performance aspect, we have expanded our line to include larger pumps capable of up to 14,000 gpm with heads up to 430 feet. By having higher performance and enhanced air-handling capacities, we are able to achieve faster draw-downs, saving our users time and operating costs. In addition to diesel, natural gas and hybrid engines, most of our pump models are now available with electric motor drives. By incorporating electric motors with variable-speed drives and automatic start/stop and speed-control devices, we are now able to operate our pumps within a specified range of rpm's to conserve energy and to reduce maintenance costs.

We are also working to develop products that will last longer and will require less routine service and maintenance. Our new “compact series” pump models have virtually eliminated many of the traditional service points required with currently available pumps. Fewer service points and longer service intervals will enable our customers to spend less time maintaining and servicing pumps and to devote more of their time to the actual work at hand.

Askin: The newest products that we've developed basically expand our HL line, we've introduced an HL 260 and two high-pressure hydraulically driven pumps. We're continuing to expand our range, making sure that we have the right pump for the application, that we're not stretching the pump that might not be ideal for it.

Grant: Tsurumi has four different markets that it supplies pumps to: rental/contractor supply; water feature; heavy duty contractor & mining; and sewage and wastewater. We're constantly reviewing products for each market to see what might also fit into our other markets. For example, we recently introduced a line of dry prime pumps to the rental market that are specifically used for wastewater transfer. We are looking to expand other products into this area. We feel this will create new opportunities for our rental stores with customers they already have relationships with and do business with, i.e; their local municipality.

What are some of the trends you expect to see in your type of pumps and the pump industry in general?

Ohstrom: We're seeing a couple of main trends. One is more interest in rental as opposed to buying, for the same reason that everyone else rents: you don't have the capital effort, you have access to recent-model equipment and in good condition, and also know-how, because if you rent a pump straight up, you may not have the knowledge needed to really install and operate it properly, or even to select the right type of pump. That gives us some more opportunity for systems selling so we design the system, we rent the pumps, and all the pipes and hoses that are needed with the rental. It's really solution selling, a one-stop shop for customers who are in need.

Another trend would be on the environmental side, primarily driven by the Tier-4 regulations as with other types of equipment. Unfortunately it drives the cost a little bit because those engines are more expensive to build. So there's definitely a switch going on into those kinds of cleaner-running engines, driven by legislation.

Leupi: Today's pumps are mostly very proven designs with little technology change in the pump end itself. The technology trends on engine-driven pumps center around engine upgrades for evaporative and exhaust emissions mostly invisible to the customer. For larger diesel-driven pumps, it's meeting the latest tier emissions standard. On large engine-driven pumps, there is a long-term trend toward sound attenuation, especially in urban areas. Expect within five to 10 years most diesel engine pumps to be sound-attenuated.

What are some of the changes your customers, particularly in the rental market but end users as well, are asking for?

Thompson: Today's customers have extremely high expectations — and, rightfully so. They expect pumps to be readily available, at a reasonable price, of the highest quality, extremely reliable and economical to operate and maintain. Every day, we see our customers asking us to do more than simply manufacture, sell or rent our products. They are constantly requesting us to provide extensive support in terms of training, demonstrations, specifying, designing, engineering, installing, operating, servicing, maintaining, repairing, and, in many instances, taking total responsibility for the success of the portions of a project that involve pumping. We have remodeled our company to meet these requirements and expectations of our customers.

Ohstrom: There are a couple of changes going on. One is more attention to noise and noise reduction. We get a lot more requests from customers for pumps that are sound-attenuated, especially those to be used near or in residential neighborhoods. Pumps tend to be loud, especially if it's a bigger sewer bypass where we might have several units running at the same time.

Any developments and changes you are seeing or expect to see in the marketing of pumps in rental?

Thompson: With the current limited availability of financing from the banks, our customers are seeking floor-planning and extended payment terms from the factory or from our distributors. Internet marketing is becoming more prevalent and we have invested quite a lot of time, effort and money to make our website user-friendly.

Ohstrom: We've touched upon it already; it's really more problem solving and selling solutions. So instead of selling or renting a pump we sell a customer the ability to move water or move liquid from one point to another. It's more of a turnkey approach.

What effects has the economic downturn and construction slump had on your business and on the pump industry in general? Do you see any signs of a turnaround or improvement?

Thompson: While the recession, the absence of new home construction and private development, the minimal impact of the ARRA, the limited expenditures for infrastructure improvements and the turmoil in the financial markets have severely impacted our business, we have modified our business model to adjust to current conditions and conditions we anticipate in the foreseeable future. In that regard, I do not envision any significant improvement in our industry in the next two to three years.

Leupi: While our pump sales, like everyone else's, have been affected by the economic downturn, pump sales are also impacted by wet weather and to some extent hurricanes therefore our pump sales have fared better than some of our other product lines. We are cautiously optimistic that overall sales, including pumps, are on the mend but I think it's too early to tell if we are in for a real recovery in pump sales next year.

Grant: One of the major changes in our market in relation to the economic downturn is that our customers are looking for pump manufacturers that not only offer a wide product range but, most importantly, are able to meet their inventory needs. As an actual pump manufacturer we are able to stock more product and react more quickly to spikes in business caused by, for example, inclement weather. One of the constant concerns I hear is that many manufacturers are unable to fill orders in a timely manner.

Askin: The downturn certainly has affected us the past couple of years, but we've been such a busy organization with the growth that we've experienced over the past 10 years, we took an opportunity to look at our systems. We implemented a new computer system, we implemented several processes to improve how we do business and make it more efficient, and combined with a focus on solution selling, not just offering products to people but actually training our technicians and engineers in exactly what that customer is up against and what sort of solutions they need. We think we've weathered this storm a lot better than what is typical for our industry, and we see it as a long, slow climb out of a few lean years. But we're very optimistic about how we're doing this year and what's coming up.

What do you expect economically in the rest of 2010 and 2011?

Thompson: While I'm normally an optimist, stagnation with the outside prospects for minimal improvement is my best guess for the next two to three years. The demands are still there. We still have a growing population, our infrastructure is eroding at an alarming rate, and we have rising expectations for transportation, clean water, a clean environment, adequate housing, schools, hospitals and other services. Private investment and government expenditures are not addressing the needs adequately. The X-factors are the extent of government involvement — positive and negative — and the confidence factor of the American people.

Askin: We're a little sheltered because we have such a broad line of business. For example, we might have a branch or a distributor in California that used to do a lot of housing work. That market is dried up and is about gone, but at the same time some of the work in oil fields and other areas has picked up and is very strong. So as we've covered broadly across the markets, we're optimistic about it.

Grant: The rental market has held steady for us so far in 2010. Looking to 2011 we look for it to be stable plus. There are still a lot of unknowns going forward with the new construction and housing market while we should continue to see an uptick in infrastructure improvements. As we go into what is traditionally the slow season for the rental market we are confident that our customers will persevere and hit the ground running in 2011! We will do our best to stock the products that our customers need and provide the service that they demand.

In many types of equipment, computer technology is playing a major role in the evolution of that type of equipment. Is that occurring in pump technology as well, and, if so, how?

Thompson: Yes, with the advent of new electronically controlled diesel engines. These new engines can be controlled and diagnosed remotely with computers. Many of the newer engines enable the operators to monitor conditions, performance and faults, and they can start, stop and control the speed of the engine remotely via the Internet.

Askin: It really made a significant difference in pump technology on two fronts. Number one, in diesel engines we developed what we call a prime guard controller. That control panel controls the engine and you can control it based on parameters like level of the fluids you're pumping, the pressure in or out of the pump, you can control it on temperature, on time, and you can have that engine adjust itself to the parameters so rather than having to rely on an operator to interpret, this system will do it for you so the pumps all of a sudden run more efficiently and they are a lot easier to operate because they become somewhat automatic. On the electrical side, there's a lot of technology that has been out there for years, soft-start panels, variable-frequency drives.

It's been out there and it's been available, but that technology was so expensive that it wasn't an option because it would be cheaper to hire an operator to maintain the pump 24 hours a day or to operate the pump. Now the price points have come down to the point that it's reasonable to rent and we have available in our rental fleets now VFDs through 600 horsepower, soft-starts in the same range. If you're running that pump on a generator it will reduce the size of generator you need to run the pump and it also gives you many of those same advantages I mentioned before about the time guard, it being able to adjust the pump to the conditions.

For a full transcript of the interviews, visit rermag.com.