Strategic choices, values or well-structured methods may sometimes produce far-off effects. This does not always happen, but when it does, it can be taken as a quality paradigm for what you are doing, recognizing the results and positive consequences thereof. Even after decades, in every continent.
In each of the three reference markets - Household appliances, Automotive and Industrial sectors - we selected a story that tells about our journey and shows how a systemic, qualitative approach, that has been adopted for several years now, can even today give us the impetus to enhance the research and development paths which we started a long time ago: competitiveness, strategic advantages, edge over competitors and market position are in various ways consequences thereof and, in turn, new bases on which to continue growing together. With the pride of being able to tell a story that encompasses a worldwide process even if it solely refers to our corporate world, with the ability of foreign subsidiary companies to act as cognitive, manufacturing and development extensions of all the scenarios we are involved in.
That is why we want to tell you about our “Butterfly Effect”. This phenomenon, known in the era of globalization due to the relationship and the concatenation of consequences that local actions may have at a global level, takes on a very special meaning if used to analyse the development of some MTU products.
We hope you enjoy the read.
Since the early nineties, in an effort to try and solve noise problems and issues due to the gasket getting stuck as a result of long periods of inactivity, the household appliance pump market has called for the power of water pump motors to be reduced.
Meccanotecnica Umbra took up the challenge 25 years ago, developing a material for sliding rings capable of reducing sliding friction. PTFE patented by MTU with appropriate fillers: Mecflon. “Basically”, said Marco Benincasa, “in the early 90s, the market for household appliances, and specifically for dishwashers, called for a motor power reduction and the elimination of noise, which was also caused by the gasket and mechanical seal. Furthermore, reducing the motor power, which is linked to the starting torque, will reduce costs. To do this, a material was needed that would not get stuck, especially in the periods following long breaks in use.” At the core of this long development process was therefore a market requirement, which MTU was challenged to meet, “overcoming the intrinsic limits of a material which, as a plastic, has known limits of use. Our Mecflon exceeds the structural limits of materials, making the most of their advantages. Ongoing product development has continued for 25 years. The first development leap occurred when we were able to replace the carbon ring.
The Y1 type, therefore, allowed us to first reduce the absorbed pump power and to somehow eliminate noise and pump locking, thereby immediately placing us at the forefront with respect to the rest of the market.
In Mecflon, PTFE (polytetraflurethylene) acts as a “base”, a plastic matrix to be added with fillers, such as glass fibres (in the first Y1 version), or a carbon micro powder in the more recent Y4 one. All versions have therefore been widely used in the market, with Y4 progressively replacing previous versions in all applications. With Y4, we achieved significant improvements also in terms of wear resistance, which is a key issue as these materials are subject to the action of abrasive contaminants”.
The process was therefore developed over a long time: “from Y1 (1992) to Y4 (2003-2004), work required further study, trying to understand how to improve our seal which is, as already mentioned, mainly used in the pumps of dishwashers and other machines, such as coffee machines. The first phase was quite rapid, allowing us to reach the market quickly. Then it took over 10 years to fine-tune performance.
Today, when compared to other PTFE grades, Mecflon is specifically designed to provide greater efficiency, improved wear resistance and lower starting torque.
Mecflon’s effect was therefore once again a key factor to avoid getting stuck and noise. We also achieved remarkable results in defining the design for brushless motors with clear advantages also in terms of wear, for the natural damage caused by the use and movement of the parts”.
However, what really is a winning point at company level is the approach underlying the Mecflon development process that was adopted by the Research and Development team at the Campello facility. “Then, however, for the main part of production and application in the field, MTU China factory’s work became strategic and fundamental, since most customers had already outsourced their production there. We therefore succeeded in pleasing our customers by supporting the production phase in China, without leaving Campello: thus, manufacturing in China but developing in Italy and keeping our methods and approach characteristics unchanged. The consequent growth of our Chinese Subsidiary, therefore, also allowed for Campello’s well-structured growth. What we did was not actually outsource but rather use a form of widespread operational intelligence that brought about a virtuous network economy”.
Balanced growth, in which all foreign plants manage to seize opportunities in a well-structured way along with headquarters – a further consequence of this special Butterfly Effect produced by choices that were made years ago and that today, find confirmation and are brought forward along with better control of know how.
“Mecflon was a key product for MTU, making us become a reference point for the market: in the last few 25
in the last few 25 years, all dishwasher manufacturers who mostly use pump and seal technology have purchased our products.
Our market share is over 50% in Europe and 30% to 40% worldwide. The volume of MTU sales in the household appliance sector largely depends on this material, and on our ability to fully and competitively manufacture it in house, continuously following up on the early insight that led to the product development”.
MTU is active in the automotive industry, in particular as a manufacturer of mechanical seals for motor water pumps. In recent years, the whole sector has had to deal with changes that occurred in the market as a result of modifications in environmental regulations and a tendency to cut motor power in order to reduce consumption and the ecological impact. Marco Benincasa and Francesco Valentini talk about the 25-year journey that led to the development and improvement of MTU’s response to these various issues.
“It all started with the emergence of a new market requirement: on the one hand, it was necessary to reduce the physiological cosmetic micro loss that mechanical seal parts must have; on the other hand, as a result of the environmental regulations becoming increasingly stringent, the composition of antifreeze liquids, which in the past were very polluting, had been changed, thereby determining different behaviours, both as cooling liquids and as lubricants, bringing about a change in the mechanical parts coming into contact with these liquids due to physical (a risk of surface abrasion of the seals of the pumps moving them) and chemical (a tendency of antifreeze to form deposits due to the presence of mineral salts) reasons. We therefore had to react to these changes, which had been brought about precisely as a result of modifications to the regulations and motor working conditions: both a general reduction in power and a tendency to produce smaller, faster and hotter motors, causing greater stress for all affected components. Also in the automotive sector, the minimum power absorbed by a water pump has become a significant element in the overall reduction of motor power: in many cases, in new electric or hybrid vehicles, the electric pump has lower power, which is an edge for those who can manufacture it functionally.
The early phase of development involved identifying the ideal materials to make the two seal rings of. In some applications, working temperatures require the use of carbon rings: we therefore had to look for a type of carbon that had all ideal characteristics at the same time: the lowest possible friction, the greatest resistance to wear and the least possible thermal expansion in the application ( -40° +140°) to avoid size variations that could affect the pump operation.
We thus, ended up defining C.U.G. (Carbon Ultra Graphite or Hard Carbon Graphite) by focusing on a resin-free sintering process and gradually defining the appropriate mix of carbon and graphite.
To optimise the sealing capacity while looking for the best material to be coupled to C.U.G., we considered the use of ceramics, including silicon carbide, with their greater resistance to thermal shock. The problem was, however, to maintain a minimum amount of liquid between the two surfaces in contact, to ensure the necessary lubrication between sealing elements. These materials were developed by a single team that managed to work on both materials and develop each according to the needs of the other, in a mutual, parallel process.
For automotive applications, today we are the only ones to have used this type of silicon carbide and carbon, in the wake of recent
years’ technological challenge, namely the search for a raw material with particle sizes below 20 microns.
These materials have therefore been developed to feature the least possible friction in working conditions and a stable lubrication film between parts, thus not only ensuring a low, uniform temperature but also keeping material buildups, noise and excessive torsion under control. Therefore, the request for friction reduction and the reaction to the variation of fluids and the contingent market needs have urged us to follow a path of research and development that has led us to change and evolve the components of our product and their structural and surface conditions.
Carbon has gradually had an increasingly fine micro-grain. Silicon carbide surface porosity, which we have obtained with Laser technology instead of by pressing since 2010, was widened, making us gain a significant edge in precision terms. This also definitely improved the problem of noise resulting from rubbing: thanks to this parallel development, graphite powder particle size has been studied to perfectly interact with Silicon Carbide porosity, allowing us to avoid the suppliers’ “blackmail” for “standard” material supplies, as well as guaranteeing us far higher performance benefits with respect to our competitors. This process allowed us to position ahead of Japanese and German competitors, since we managed to industrialise production in a competitive way and, above all, within a functional process related to manufactured quantities: we still carry out mass production that requires low costs. So we can say that we optimised precision in light of the costs imposed on us by market conditions and production volumes.
This is a 25-year story focused on continuous research, which today, continues to look to the next 25 years with the same attitude that in recent years has made it possible for customers to appreciate our difference.
The market share we are currently holding in this area is entirely the result of our ability to solve customer problems. And if we have managed to give these answers, it is because we did not focus only on production costs, but we realized that design had to be moved from the product to the material.
We can proudly say that instead of designing “only” the product, we designed the materials to build the product with.
It is in this sense that talking, for example, of Designed Porosity for our silicon rings is tantamount to telling a complete vision, a method and a work approach typical of MTU: all design elements are instrumental to the customer’s result.
The entire research and development phase took place in Campello sul Clitunno: an investment was needed here in Campello to serve all the manufacturing facilities for silicon carbide and laser surface finishing. A strategic choice we have made for 15 years, even at the expense of some competitiveness, but which guarantees control, quality and a certain degree of confidentiality. For manufacturing and marketing phases, however, foreign subsidiaries have come into the game as critical players to fiercely hit markets with the most competitive conditions ever, but above all with highly effective local logistic and manufacturing facilities. Just as the after-sales phase is fundamental for our type of relationship with customers, which is the tangible reason why we continue doing research, thanks to a structured continuous feedback process. Thus, the high-tech investments made in Campello have their raison d’être and are paid off by the group logic, allowing continuous and virtuous flow between product research and marketing, and allowing for mass production in the volumes required for its own subsistence, thanks to multiple requests from subsidiaries. It is precisely global sales that can support the required figures. Otherwise, manufacturing limited quantities of rings to only serve a local market would not be advantageous for anyone.
30 years ago we were the smallest of the 13 companies that operated in the automotive industry. Today, we are the second of three companies that survived, and all this is largely due to our research on materials. This allowed us to capitalise on an enormous competitive edge, with respect to competitors who have to purchase materials externally, which are sometimes not even specific to their applications, with consequent difficulties to adapt to technological leaps or market innovations. We managed to acquire 20-25% of the market share of our competitors who, especially due to technical matters rather than economic ones, have proven to be less flexible than we are. By researching, designing and building materials in house we have had more opportunities to meet requests, and more adequate reaction times”.
This story describes how developing a seal for a given application has actually broadened the application base of the product it is used in. The growth of twin-screw pumps is intertwined with the design and reliability of the seals developed by Huhnseal, used in the food and beverage industry, “custom-made design” gains an even greater meaning and scope, as Daniele Ficorilli and Luca Tamburelli told us.
Screw Pumps are pumps that are used for viscous products, such as honey or fruit they handle the product in a very gentle way, so much so that even strawberries are not damaged.
It all began about 20 years ago. In early 2000, our collaboration with a customer who is still one of the industry leaders
led us to develop some twin-screw pump seals for the food and beverage industry, for the first time. So we can say that it all started with this customer’s insight, which we made possible by contributing to the success of this technology for the food industry.
Developing the product and fostering its natural growth required twenty years. In this period, there have been several generations of seals for twin-screw pumps, developed and modified according to changing industry standards and legislation.
Huhnseal’s participation in the European Committee that oversees the design of hygienic equipment, the EHEDG (European Hygienic Engineering Design Group — www.ehedg.org) was a major benefit for us. Huhnseal is an active member of this committee, whose function is to define the standards for the design of the hygienic components of engineering products. As a result we were able to apply rigorous technical design practices, making components more hygienic.
Over time, not only has our product – the seal – evolved, but so has the pump itself, for use in new hygienic applications, for exampleits use with chocolate, where the mechanical seal was a limiting factor preventing Twin Screw Pump from being used with this product.
Today Huhnseal is the main supplier of reliable seal solutions to OEM’s manufacturing twin screw pumps to be used for chocolate processing.
As you can imagine, there are many parameters to monitor even for very slight use variations. We are proud to see how Huhnseal's research and development contribution has basically made it possible to help our partners develop the market and, thanks to a mechanical seal used in certain applications, to see the twin-screw pump as a possible solution.
Our seal development has had a significant impact on the success of twin-screw pumps used in chocolate applications.
All this is the result of our ability to custom design solutions that satisfies the needs of all stakeholders. Huhnseal is today a market leader in mechanical seals for pumps and rotating equipment to be used in the food and beverage industry.
December 17, 2018 was a very special day for MTU Brazil. We organised the annual Solidarity Campaign, collecting and donating objects for children charities in need. Heartfelt thanks to all those who contributed to the donation. The objects collected were delivered to the Casa di Gesù Maria José Orphanage and the Casa della Madre Maria nursery.
A Cultural Association was founded in 2017 among the employees of MTU to enhance the free time of all those who interact with our company with recreational, sports and cultural activities. Below are the pictures of the visit to the Royal Palace of Caserta on 11 May 2019.
On 21 March 2019 we were pleased to host Francesca Pasinelli, Telethon’s General Manager. She discussed the crucial role played by this Foundation in the field of medical scientific research.
We invest in our future and in Educational change and Development projects. A unique teaching experience, combining the English language with a theatre workshop, to enhance skills to be strengthened and made expendable. A collaboration with Primo Circolo Didattico Spoleto, which we are proud of, that took place directly at the Campello Sul Clitunno Nursery School. Thanks to the Principal, to the teachers, to the professionalism of Artelingua and its teacher, and of course thanks to all those who believed in our project and in a certainly innovative teaching proposal. And thanks to the children who have welcomed this teaching project with great effort and enthusiasm.
On 22 December 2018, during the usual end-of-year party, we celebrated the 90th birthday of our vice president and Meccanotecnica Umbra founder, Fulvio Ginobri. A party in which the whole company participated with emotion, to exchange greetings and pay tribute to our beloved Mr Ginobri.