My relationship with hydraulics always has been, how shall I say this… strained. Mechanical systems are rarely a challenge – by the time I learned to drive, I could rebuild a V-8 and set up a new ring and pinion in a Dana rear end. I can work with wiring diagrams, and I’ve accepted electronics as something I’m willing to use without completely understanding it.
But I’ve always felt I should have a better feel for hydraulics. It started almost 40 years ago when, using the time-honored self-teaching method, I boldly took apart a Fordomatic and spread its guts on the floor to see how it worked. I didn’t figure it out, and I never put it back together.
At a later point in my speckled career, I was charged with helping to get intact powdered-metal compacts out of 100-ton hydraulic presses. One long look at the schematics made me deeply grateful that somebody else in our organization knew how to make them tick.
Last year, when I decided to convert my favorite four-wheeled hulk from a Borg Warner 66 three-speed slushbox to a GM THM700-R4 four-speed with a locking torque converter, I knew better than to gamble at the wrecking yard or try to rebuild one myself. I started with a freshly remanufactured unit (if you want a great source for an automatic at a reasonable price, drop me a line). But just figuring out how the throttle valve (TV) works so I could get its control cable properly adapted and adjusted took me quite a bit of research. Those GM engineers are amazingly ingenious.
So when it comes to hydraulics, I mainly know what I don’t know, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s an important second step in any endeavor. The first, of course, is to know what you know.
Every person, group and organization has a set of knowledge and skills. Some you use every day, others you may rarely or never tap, but when you set out to do something, your odds of success are pretty much proportional to how well the requirements match the available talent. That seems obvious, but the landscape of human endeavor is littered with efforts that failed because whoever started them didn’t bother to make sure they had the intellectual capital to ensure success.
There are at least as many potential gains lost because nobody knew about or took advantage of their organization’s existing capabilities.
Leveraging your resources isn’t simple or easy. How many companies have an accurate skills inventory? You may know how your people stack up against your established requirements, but do you know what they know that you’re not currently using? Along with a reasonable base workload that exercises their existing expertise, can you encourage the personalized learning, growth and development that will increase their satisfaction in their jobs and lives, and ultimately the strength and profits of your company?
Individuals and small groups have limited resources and often must stretch their talents or hire outside expertise to take on new challenges. But even though their lists of strengths are short enough to inventory relatively easily, they too often waste their potential (don’t know what they know) or pursue inappropriate objectives (don’t know what they don’t know).
Larger organizations, often with dispersed departments or divisions, have the opposite problem. They may seem to be able to do virtually anything, but can they identify the best choices, who should do what, and how to coordinate their efforts?
At a recent press gathering, representatives of the Parker conglomerate of aerospace, climate, filtration, hydraulics, sealing/shielding, and process and motion control companies offered an inside look at their approach to innovation and improvement. Parker has a formal process that takes ideas from any of its employees through a multiple-step funnel of evaluations by key representatives of its management, manufacturing and finance groups. Projects that draw on company strengths, have quantitative support from named customers and address essential human needs (energy, environment, health, safety, food, water and population) are most likely to be funded.
Parker’s roots are in hydraulic hoses and fittings, but its portfolio of products and projects (and its record on the stock exchange) show it’s come a long way. My favorite of the technologies under development is an energy-recovering diesel/hydraulic hybrid drive for heavy vehicles, initially targeting package delivery and waste collection trucks (talk about human needs…).
The current design of the hybrid drive system features hydraulic accumulators for energy storage but its heart is a reversible motor/pump that shifts from converting pressurized flow into shaft rotation to power the wheels, to converting shaft rotation to pressurized flow to brake the truck and store energy in the accumulators. In concept, it’s simpler than GM’s THM700R-4, and uses sophisticated electronic controls instead of the ingenious TV cable.
I’m working on getting one to take one apart. Anyone want to help?