Grundfos gets smarter
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The Danish pumps company opened a new facility near Chicago last month. Pumps are increasingly an afterthought in this IT-led business, however
Danish Trade Minister Pia Olsen Dyhr opened Grundfos’ new manufacturing and service centre for the North American municipal wastewater market in Aurora, Illinois last month, as the company steps up its efforts to “double or triple” its US market share within five years.
But despite the awesome impellers, casings and shafts on show at the facility, which is located 60 miles west of Chicago, software – rather than hardware – is the centre of the group’s growth strategy.
“In the pumps market, the wet end is a commodity business,” explained regional managing director Jes Munk Hansen. “We focus our R&D on the dry end. That is where you can make a difference – in drive systems, sensors and controls. You start with the basic dumb pump, next you have a three-speed pump, then a variable frequency drive, and now our focus is on developing smart pumps.”
Hansen points out that around 20% of electricity usage around the world is dedicated to pumping water around, and that 85% of pump energy is wasted because pumps operate at a single speed, and variations in the required pressure are achieved by using a valve to impede the f low. Grundfos has been developing sensor systems which work with control systems and variable speed drives to ensure that changes in flow rate can be achieved by throttling up and down the speed of the pump. It has developed smart pumps for buildings which not only alter the pressure in the piping system according to demand, but also learn the pattern of demand across the day so that they can anticipate required increases in pressure. The company has also developed smarter pumps for water networks which reduce leakage by ensuring that the pressure is moderated during the night when demand is low, and when there is a danger that running a pump system at a single speed will accelerate leakage.
“At Grundfos we are committed to investing five or six percent of our turnover in research and development. You know that we have been making microchips in Denmark since the 1970s. We still manufacture our own chips. We have one of the cleanest clean rooms in Denmark for doing that.”
The company’s investment in sensors and controls brings Grundfos into the fastgrowing smart water grid market, where it will need to compete with giants such as IBM, as well as specialist systems suppliers such as TaKaDu. Given that a smart network requires valves, actuators, control systems and a much wider range of components than just pumps, is Grundfos wasting its time by moving so far away from the wet end of the pump? Surely customers will go to a systems supplier who will buy the different components from the different suppliers? Other pump manufacturers such as Pentair are bringing pumps together with valves. Why not Grundfos?
“Because valves are a commodity item, it’s difficult to make money by producing them,” Hansen asserts, adding that valves are often used where variable frequency pumps would be more energy-efficient. In terms of the way the industry structure is changing, he believes that pump companies should continue to move away from the wet end. “I don’t like to say this because they are a competitor, but I think that what Xylem has done buying water
quality monitoring equipment is a very smart move.”
The new centre at Aurora is in fact the old Yeomans Chicago Corporation facility, which Grundfos acquired along with YCC in 2008 to target the $2 billion-a-year North American wastewater pumps market. Grundfos has retooled the plant and enhanced the product range, whilst centralising the service offering at the centre. “We didn’t buy Yeomans for the buildings or the machines, or even the pumps,” Hansen remarks. “We bought it for the people.”