We are living in an historical time marked by deep changes, both from a social economic point of view and, above all, from the technological side (Big Data, IOT, ect.). The challenge we are calling to, needs that our reaction is a mixture of good timing, foresight, anticipation and adaptation: in other words, it will be time to field, once again, all of our talent.
Change cannot be averted: this sometimes forces us to rethink the certainties that up until yesterday allowed us to be successful, to leave our comfort zones and deal with new scenarios – our confidence being based on what has characterised us so far and guaranteed our capital of knowledge and method, an identity-based approach to innovation.
Today, MTU is required to deal with a transition that affects us despite our decisions, requiring us to not only ponder on the present, but to think out what MTU intends to be in the next 5, 15 or 20 years.
That is why, every day, we work on continuously evolving scenarios. And that is why we have decided to present these circumstances jointly with the talents of our group, who are on the line at all times – we are a community of people with diverse skills and qualities, able to tackle even new, unexpected challenges.
It is obvious to everyone that the automotive market is going through momentous transformation: the emergence of electric vehicles, the evolution of regulations and the need to reduce emissions, already have implications now. Soon, compared to about 90 million vehicles sold worldwide every year, almost all equipped with internal combustion engine, few hybrids and almost no electrical vehicle, the figure is likely to rise to even over 100, maybe 110 million vehicles a year, of which at least 25% (with substantial differences between China, USA and Europe) will concern electric motors. Much more electricity will be available inside most future vehicles, with the transition to the infamous 24 or 48 V. Therefore, many auxiliary systems such as water pumps will likely become electric, and however small the contribution of the seal, we will need to be ready to supply pumps with increasingly high performance seals in terms of reduced power consumption and therefore, ultimately, consumption and CO2 emissions. Thanks to our constant research into the technological innovation of materials, we already have a solution for these cases, sometimes borrowing it from other sectors: coal, silicon carbide with laser porosity and PTFE. The trend will therefore be to develop smaller electric pumps, but whose operational ranges – in terms of temperature and capacity – are wholly similar to those used in household appliances.
Most likely, the same experiences and solutions developed for the household appliance sector might then beuseful in the automotive sector.
This transition phase will require further adaptation, but must not frighten us: with the emergence of electrical vehicles, the use of cooling pumps might even increase. The design, number or size of pumps will change: but new productions will deal with the same issues, hence the skills we have accrued to date are still crucial for being successful on the market.
In electric vehicles – in addition to all the pumps needed to also cool the battery pack, the control electronics of the battery pack and the motor – cooling inside the rotor is required for some drive motors with greater power, not only in the outer jacket. In these motors, which produce more heat, also as electrical and electromagnetic losses, it is indeed possible to circulate fluid inside the rotor, leading to the need to provide a circuit that requires joints and rotating gaskets, which reach 20 -25,000 revolutions per minute. Hence the simpler rotary shaft seals, in elastomer alone, mostly used so far, are no longer enough for the task. In any case, even the fully electric vehicle needs cooling or heating functions for the passenger compartment. Almost all systems require pumps, therefore, hopefully, seals as well. The fluids and operating conditions are very similar to those we already know today, which is why the experience developed by MTU in designing effective solutions makes our skills very suitable also to provide solutions in this new scenario:
we have both the appropriate answers and the necessary technical know-how.
For us, this is a new starting point. Our skills-set will certainly need to be increased, since we will most likely deal with new partners, namely companies that make electrical pumps featuring a different design, and to be able to liaise with them, we will need greater, more specific know-how for electric drive motors – electromagnetic components will go hand-in-hand with purely mechanical ones. We must be able to adapt to the changing market by continuing to develop solutions and materials, as well as leveraging our continued global presence and building appropriate collaborative networks.
Optimal growth is always a mixture of basic technology, which must continue being nourished, and new specific skills that need to be acquired quickly,
and this is done mainly by setting up partnerships with complementary companies, which allow us to respond quickly without waiting for endogenous growth. In the past, MTU also provided applications with low technological content, a sector where low-cost competition is now thriving. We must be ready for diminishing low-margin markets (after market), and we must win the challenges on new projects and scenarios, which, combined with the situation due to the crisis in diesel engines, may lead to a lower need for production resources, requiring from us functional transformation and rethinking for the new environment. To win new projects we need to redistribute technical skills, and the company needs to be able to address the new demands from the market.
That’s because the primary focus cannot be other than the customer: their needs must be met, and that is the essential purpose of products.
Today, for those working in the cooling sector, the new needs mean circuits with several branches, all having several pumps, but electric ones. The people needed to deal with this step play a vital role, even more so not to be left behind and have an objective advantage in the production phase.
The industrial market is also going through an evolution phase. Not so much at technological level, as in connection with two other essential aspects such as presence and balance on the market. Until now, in the sector of industrial mechanical seals, water pumps have always had the lion’s share (90%), and MTU has had a presence in this sector for years. However, these applications are becoming increasingly commonplace: the technology is now widespread, less distinctive, and set to become a commodity. In these cases, cost is the only discriminating factor, much more than technology per se. And in price wars, low cost countries (China and India) rule the roost, since today they have reached the position where they are able to play this game anywhere, not only on their home turf.
Europe is reacting on several fronts, trying to raise the bar with bureaucratic and regulatory weapons such as certifications and minimum quality levels, not just as regards seals but also pump manufacturers.
The market is changing and a change is required of us as a consequence. We respond to pressure in two ways: by not losing contact with the market we have worked in until now, especially by deploying new materials; and by seeking to diversify and breaking into new markets. This can mainly be achieved by taking over companies that already have the technology or applications that we have never before worked with. That’s what we have done in Germany, with a business unit of NIDEC GPM, and recently in Canada by taking over Fugesco:
increasing MTU’s talent with the know-how of a company specialising in very wide diameter seals for the hydroelectric sector.
This takeover strategy allows us to achieve now what would otherwise take us 10 years. We are therefore playing on different fields, and in different games: not just in the pump sector, but also in arenas influenced by renewable energy. The market is no longer willing to pay for commodities, hence it is essential to evolve with new materials, to attract new customers.
In this scenario, it is even more important to have MTU’s typical approach to evolution, to understanding change and growth for the whole group. A takeover does not merely translate into winning new market segments, but also acquiring products and technologies that allow us to reap compounded benefits:
our talent lies in ensuring the result of 1+1 is 3.
All the expertise we thus acquire must trickle through the entire system, in order not only to be used specifically, limited to incorporated applications, but to become an added value available to the whole MTU world.
Realising how the existing state of affairs conditions the emergence of special types of talent is quite natural, but should not be taken for granted. This is certainly the case with Huhnseal, whose core business is the construction of mechanical seals, but is strongly focused on customised, engineered products designed to the specifications of OEM customers. All talent leads to a calling, and that is Huhnseal’s calling. We have no catalogue, all our solutions are made to measure. This is certainly a distinctive and rewarding feature of our identity, and should be strengthened in the future.
The food sector is currently in very good health, and is the driving sector. We have international customers who are moving away from Oil and Gas towards food and beverage: it is a strategic sector, which will hardly be affected by any crisis, and where the hygienic, health and safety standards cannot but become ever stricter, also in countries traditionally seen as low cost. Designing and constructing mechanical seals for machines that process foodstuff products is a key step in the whole industrial supply chain, and that is why we expect growth also there, with the implementation of new safety standards. Good indications also come from sectors such as paper, mining, pharmaceuticals and abrasive products.
At the same time, the changing sensitivities, behaviour and habits on a planetary level imply a change in the dynamics, which are directly reflected by the markets, industrial production and the ability to respond.
Since a significant share of end-users – who, after all, are those who drive everything else – increasingly feel that issues such as ecology and quality certifications are crucial, certain sectors such as recycling biological materials assure a very positive outlook for the future. Customers who traditionally work with paper products are adding biomass processing to their business, leading to an increased interest in and demand for mechanical seals for applications such as biomass processing stirrers, especially in Europe.
The talent of Huhnseal is indeed deployed here, in its ability to meet needs that cannot be met by others, especially because they have a catalogue of standardised products. This is also thanks to the high percentage of engineers at the company: everything stems from the great engineering abilities of our team.
We continuously look for what others don’t do or are forced to leave behind, and there are several areas for potential development, such as North America and China, as well as the European market, our main market, where there is still margin for growth.
The special winning factor is also the ability by our sales department to take full advantage of the design potential of our team, with a work method and ability of liaising with the customer that achieves, to all intents and purposes, a deep partnership: the seal leaves the company with the customer’s trademark, as do the spare parts, providing our customers with the potential for additional business. Servicing at the end users’ premises is always carried out directly by our OEM customer. We protect our customer in every possible way.
Engineering skills and flexibility, protection, adaptation and customisation of the solutions. Here is our multifaceted talent, which permeates every department and every work stage at Huhnseal.
The H.E.RO. (Harsh Environment Rotary joint) project is an activity that falls under the diversification strategies introduced by MTU to find new opportunities in high added value markets, as, in this case, that of sealing systems for heavy duty conditions. Technically demanding conditions, compounded by the specific issues of product development in co-design with the customer, as it is not in the catalogue of sealing systems.
The innovative components resulting from the activities of the R&D department are installed in machinery and systems which sometimes are also prototypes and, in addition to the technical specifications, their design must also take the real conditions under which they work into account. That is why, in addition to a preliminary feasibility study, it is essential to build the measurement and inspection instruments that allow us to measure and understand the behaviour of the new device. Therefore, the prototype, following experiments conducted in our testing room, is provided to the customer for performing the first tests in the actual conditions, with work parameters that are no longer simulated in the laboratory. This is the most complex and delicate fine-tuning stage, with all attending critical issues.
The context of the H.E.RO. project, i.e. High performance rotary joints for heavy-duty applications, is an obvious example of how the R&D department, after designing and producing prototype 0, has liaised with the customer to create a solid partnership conducive to the final fine-tuning. In this case, it would not be inappropriate to say that the harsh environment and heavy duty conditions did not just apply to the seal, but to those who worked on the project! Specifically, in the case of development of joints for CSPs (Concentrated Solar Plants) and for drilling towers, the whole work environment is particularly exacerbated by tight time frames and strict environmental conditions. But all this makes one even prouder of the results achieved.
H.E.RO. entailed the development of rotary joints that are able to withstand extremely high pressures, over 500 bar and manage fluids that reach over 500°C.
When dealing with applications that explore new markets, the project seriously puts to the test the experience and skills of the company’s employees. This challenge mobilises and tests everyone’s skills: under harsh conditions, one must close ranks. At times like those, one discovers unexpected, outstanding and significant synergies and strengths, which strengthen one’s feeling of belonging to the project and to the company. It then becomes natural to feel fond and proud of the solutions one has developed.
Clearly, there are also difficulties and obstacles, friction and pressures, not to mention the threats by certain Far East markets that have no qualms to deploying all possible means to acquire new technologies: from reverse-engineering to attempting to apply for patents on solutions patented by MTU. Furthermore, work team management is crucial, as it must be able to combine ongoing standard activities and the pursuit of new challenges, both technical and organisational. This ability of putting oneself at stake by undertaking innovative projects, departing from routine technical activities, entails aspects that are thrilling yet unsettling at the same time. The research activity, by its very nature, has a high risk and high stress factor, and many review cycles of the initial project are generally needed to increase the level of reliability.
For H.E.RO. we had to set up test benches that would reach 500 bar. The first times we hit a pressure of 100 bar, the anxiety of the work team was palpable. Then, little by little, one masters the new setting, which turns into growth and new know-how. It’s a continuous demand of leaving one’s comfort-zone: working out of one’s depth, diving in at the deep end, is the way to broaden the company’s market opportunities. H.E.RO. has led MTU to on-shore Oil Drilling Platforms and to Rotary Joint Systems for CSPs (Concentrated Solar Plants), energy production systems that use Solar energy concentrated by parabolic mirrors. The first application has raised the bar of our experience from the point of view of pressure (> 500 bar). The thermodynamic solar application has done so in terms of the high temperature and aggressive operating fluids. The aim of MTU is to increase its potential by exploring new markets and developing new knowledge, that will eventually trickle through other sectors as well.
H.E.RO. has taken us to the most remote areas of the planet, to the borders of our “known world”:
from Saudi Arabia to the desert of north-west China, at the border with Mongolia – it allowed us to see snow in the desert. This is our little big epic tale, which allowed us to deal with a wholly different reality from our familiar one, also in terms of human relationships, setting, environment and experience. And this perhaps helps us leave behind old habits and embrace new, non-standardised solutions. The cues provided by the conditions and by the external environment are essential to be able to take a new approach.
There are certain skills across an organisation that support and enhance professional skills. For some time now we have reached the conclusion, that is not so readily predictable, that being an extremely talented technical person is not enough to be able to make a real difference in one’s position, for the company’s success and to achieve personal goals: indeed, one often lacks the ability to combine technical and soft skills. A common mistake is to put in charge of processes people whose technical skills are unarguable but who have poor management skills, not only of the staff but other aspects as well, such as the ability to evaluate the results of the work performed.
At MTU, we have decided to deal with this issue by implementing one of the finest and most interesting initiatives in recent years, that is, the knowledge inventory. We thoroughly surveyed the skills of all MTU employees, using a simple yet extremely effective method that allows us, through our proprietary HR platform, to profile all the hard skills and soft skills of the company. By creating a radar chart, we are therefore able to identify and map all of a person’s talents, and then to cross-check them with the skills of the ideal profile required for that given role, which makes it possible to immediately show any gaps in a visually intuitive manner, to assess their size and decide where action is required.
Thanks to this work, for instance, we have decided to act on emotional intelligence. We had noticed very marked gaps in this respect, not yet fully bridged. When dealing with overall skills, one also deals with traits that depend on a person’s personality, therefore raising people’s awareness is not always enough to obtain improvements.
We therefore put in place coaching initiatives, having the people who needed it be supported by occupational psychologists, who knew the company and its issues well, to try and bridge these gaps as much as possible.
We are proud to be able to say that our approach to talent is indeed all-round: the biggest mistake one can make is to restrict the concept of talent to merely professional skills. The deep change currently underway in the approach to work also involves instrumental aspects – seen as a result of technological evolution – and stems from a number of dynamics, such as the digital transformation, that are calling for a radical change of the old ways of working and looking at things.
There is talent at MTU, although it is often located elsewhere than one imagines:
we have discovered many “pockets” of unexpressed talent, as well as, conversely, cases of overvalued or misused talent. Under and overvalue naturally coexist in any organisation: we decided to map them and arrange them systematically, highlighting what were previously unexpressed feelings. We were able to identify this kind of situation and we realised that those talents were experiencing difficulties, were in the wrong place, and there potential might perhaps be fully used by moving them to another area. People’s worth is never challenged: what was often wrong, was the match between talent and scope of application, between job and role. Improvement was outstanding and above all, perceived.
In a nutshell, professional ability is a necessary but not sufficient condition and emotional intelligence, among soft skills, is by far the most important element of integration.
Activities such as ours almost always have positive results, but should be carried out all the time. Each one’s ability to change stems from the frequency of the stimulus, of the cue to change and adapt one’s personality: as a matter of fact, the problem of resistance to change is common to all human spheres and the absence of continuous monitoring allows, understandably, a reaction mechanism to take place, which tends to bring the situation back to square one. The initiative to support our talents, which took place until last year, was demanding for the company as well as for the people involved. We are now in the crucial maintenance and monitoring stage, which is however based on well-established results.
The company is motivated to working on supporting people’s growth and on fostering their talent, which is indeed the real mission of human resource management. It is essential to be able to introduce an assessment method that is attractive, solid and rewarding, avoiding a top-down approach, and being able to involve everyone at all levels, and above all, the aim must be to produce a better match between roles and individual talent.
At MTU we have conducted comprehensive assessments with key resources, in order to identify appropriate personal growth paths.
Many people thanked the company, having perceived the efforts made by the company to properly value them, and having seen tangible results of the commitment towards their personal growth. Obviously, the approach was ill-received by some, but more often than not, a negative attitude is dictated by a lack of self-confidence and the fear of seeing aspects of one’s personality seen as negative being brought to light. This behaviour is perfectly understandable and concerns all, including and above all, managers. An objective element to assess the initiative, which also depends on other factors, is the survey of the company climate.
In general, the part connected to personal commitment, motivation and company loyalty has indeed significantly increased. We believe much of this increase arises from the activity we carried out.