Quality and service are keys to success across Spanish power market

This tour of Spain went through Pamplona, home to the famous bull run This tour of Spain went through Pamplona, home to the famous bull run (All photos from PPI, unless otherwise noted)

In 2022, the then Diesel Progress International published a report based on a tour of various machine and power companies across Spain. At that point in time, these industries were only beginning to emerge from the effects of the COVID pandemic and related part supply issues caused by national lockdowns. Now, two years later, Power Progress International has returned to Spain to find out how the market is performing, while taking the chance to see some of the latest tech now in development.

Roquet Hydraulics, which has its headquarters in Tona, near Barcelona, specialises in the design and production of gear pumps, cylinders, motors and valves for hydraulic systems used across mobile machine and agricultural applications. As part of this, the company incorporates testing facilities to determine such issues as part fatigue and corrosion resistance, while also offering advice on best manufacturing practices.

Close to the company headquarters, a plant in Centelles manufactures a broad range of cylinders for hydraulic applications. Operated under the Dinacil brand (part of the Roquet company portfolio), the parts are used in construction and agricultural machines, plus a series of other industrial applications.

Cylinder production at Roquet Cylinder production at Roquet (Photo: Roquet)

All parts for the cylinders are produced in Europe by Roquet; Dinacil has a sister plant in Romania which also produces cylinders. With that in mind, it’s surprising to learn that Roquet has no current, or indeed any future plans to start production in China.

“We hear that question all the time at trade shows, ‘do you make the parts in China?’” says Ruth Martinez, from the Sales and Marketing department. “[In China] they have very big facilities, they have the machinery, the people. But everything we produce is made in Europe and where possible, manufactured in-house by Roquet. Competitors make their parts in China and there’s a not inconsiderable price difference, so we sell on the quality of our products.”

Such is the focus on quality that it can take anywhere up to two years to bring a new cylinder design to market. Once in production, a 100% test cycle ensures that each finished cylinder is ready for a long working life in the field.

Roquet also operates a series of part warehouses around the world. According to Martinez, these help to support timely delivery of components to OEMs, while also assisting with the company’s customer service offering. “If you look at our warehouse location in Thailand, it’s delivering to a lot of local customers. But it also helps that if a component in the field has a problem, we can quickly identify and source a replacement.”

Roquet has recently opened an office in the United States. While the location will look for new opportunities, Arnau Bellapart, director of Business Development, says that the primary objective is to support existing customers. He says that a lot of European companies with local operations have continued to use Roquet parts and the new office will help to deliver the same level of support as in Europe.

“We have to be close, so we can address any issues or advise on specification. With this new location, we’ll be able to offer the same supply timetable as in Europe,” he explains. Moving forward, it’s likely that some limited production will take place in the US, at least for less-customised volume parts.

Roquet was not originally a component supplier. Instead, the company’s origins can be traced back to a foundry producing parts for other component manufacturers. The foundry site now delivers about 30% of its output to Roquet, while much of the remaining capacity is offered to the wider market, including other hydraulics manufacturers.

Whether volume or custom, quality is still the primary driver. “Our cylinders are more expensive because we’ve integrated some high-tech features. But within that we must maintain quality – which translates to dependability, the capability of our components to complete more than half a million cycles out on the construction site,” says Bellapart.

Customer care

Quality also plays a key role in production at Dicsa, a specialist provider of hydraulic hoses and fittings. Located in an industrial park near Zaragoza, the company is similar to many in the same business, with warehouses full of parts in every conceivable shape and size ready for shipping.

The list of suppliers delivering to Dicsa is a ‘who’s who’ of international hydraulics. “In many cases, we act as the warehouse for our customer,” says Pilar Marin, media manager. “We can manage their stock, deliver the part volumes as and when they’re needed.” In addition to the site in Zaragoza, which has 215,000 square feet (approx. 20,000 square metres) of warehousing space, Dicsa now also operates similar locations in Italy, Germany and the US.

Dicsa also manufactures some of its own stainless steel fittings. Marin: “We’ve always been very customer oriented. So in the 1990s, when we had problems fulfilling some requests, we started the factory so we could deliver the parts our customers needed.”

Storage systems maximise floorspace usage at Dicsa Storage systems maximise floorspace usage at Dicsa

3D printing is used to produce prototype parts, as Sergio Miguel, product manager at the Zaragoza location explains. “Before setting up a machine for a production run, we can deliver samples that are signed off by the customer. It saves a lot of time and money.” Parts can be customised to such a degree that even the helix of a screw fitting can be altered to better suit the application.

Moving through to the production halls, Miguel says that each area produces parts of same type and size, helping to reduce switchover times. “Depending on the part, the complexity, we can setup the machine in about three hours,” he explains. “A single machine incorporates a series of stations to complete different processes, resulting in the final component. We also have assembly operations to combine different parts; some are manual, others are 100% automated.”

Miguel explains more about testing of the final parts. “We generally use 316L steel, the low-carbon grade is critical to part longevity. We can test the grade, the composition of the steel, using a spark test. The machine fires a spark at the material and the resulting wave can be analysed to determine the composition, the percentage of carbon, chromium and other elements.”

Power evolution

A short journey across the sun-drenched countryside surrounding Zaragoza brings us to Carod, a company which originally focused on powered pumps for agriculture and fire protection, but now delivers a range of generator sets, high-pressure washers and pneumatic compressors.

Carod's Mohamed Mohinah (left) and Gerardo Carod, commerical manager Carod’s Mohamed Mohinah (left) and Gerardo Carod, commerical manager

“The original plant was about 11 kilometres from here, but in 2011 we purchased this land and built this new headquarters,” explains Mohamed Mohinah, export manager. He adds that while such parts as the steel gen set closures are currently delivered by suppliers, there are plans to extend the facility and produce those in-house. “COVID was hard on our suppliers and lead times grew to nearly one year. So we’ll setup our own production to avoid any repeat of that.”

Since the completion of the new factory, Carod has been steadily ramping up the power output of its generators. “We’ve gone from about 250 kVA to 800 kVA,” says Mohinah. “We’ve got upcoming projects which will include our first 1 MW gen set.” He adds that the production split at Carod is about 60% gen sets, with all other products making up the remaining 40%.

Power for the generators comes from a range of suppliers, including Deutz, Volvo Penta, FPT, Honda and Kohler. In addition to these usual suspects is MWM International, part of the Navistar Group, which has its headquarters in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “MWM engines are all mechanical, no computers. That makes them very reliable, very rugged.”

Around the assembly hall, shelving units house hundreds of boxed engines. Mohinah says that they have more than $6 million in engine inventory. “It’s another result of COVID. We hold engines so we can quickly fulfil customer orders. If the engine’s in stock I can fulfil a gen set order in about four to six weeks.” Inventory includes Stage 2, 3 and 5 engines with outputs up to 500 kVA.

Across the hall, Mohinah points out a recently-completed high pressure water pump; this is a self-contained unit which uses an engine from Deutz, pump, fuel tank, etc. all neatly housed in a towing trailer. “This is for a customer here in Spain. These are used to control fires, but also to remove graffiti. That’s very common here.”

Engine inventory at Carod supports quick customer fulfillment Engine inventory at Carod supports quick customer fulfillment
Tech development

Spain has a long history of manufacturing machines for construction, agriculture, mining, transport and power generation. But the country is also home to a series of technical institutes and universities which, in partnership with government agencies and related groups, are looking to develop new technologies intended to improve operational efficiencies across these and other industries.

Established in 1984, ITA (Instituto Tecnológico de Aragón) is a tech centre based in Zaragoza. Working with the Department of Economy, Employment and Industry of the Aragón government, the teams there are working on projects involving clean energy production, digital agribusiness and sustainable mobility.

In one such case, a team at ITA is working on the Ephyra project, or European Production of Hydrogen from Renewable Energy. This will see a 30 MW renewable hydrogen production plant integrated with a refinery in Corinth operated by Motor Oil of Hellas. This will deliver green hydrogen to the refinery and other external users as a test case for the circular hydrogen economy.

Carlos Bernad, ITA, explains details behind autonomous driving systems Carlos Bernad, ITA, explains details behind autonomous driving systems

While development of this megaproject continues, ITA is continuing to develop mechatronics systems for both on- and off-highway vehicles, as Carlos Bernad, R&D project manager at ITA explains: “We’re looking at the integration of mechanics, electronics and robotics in machines with the intention of improving functionality across all areas. We’re looking for synergies between these fields, focusing on how mechatronics can support robotics and vice versa. It’s a little different from the standard perspective.”

While work originally focused on making improvements to existing components and machines, Bernad says that it is being involved with a project from the start which will help deliver the most benefit in terms of functionality and performance. For example, a project which was originally focused on robotics resulted in development of new sensors and related software, which ITA have now used to develop systems for different purposes.

In an outside testing area, Bernad presents a series of test machines, including a dumper and a medium-duty truck. Each features a different autonomous driving system developed specifically for the environments where the vehicles could be working.

With autonomous driving systems already available for such vehicles, Bernad is asked what’s different with those developed by ITA. “These systems have been adapted to harsh environments and specific tasks,” he says with clear enthusiasm. “With new advances in sensors and computational power they can process far more data, which makes them more efficient. The data capacity also makes the vehicles safer, they can react to dangerous situations with better decision making. The new sensors collect the data and then our algorithms use that information to make the best choice.”

New market opportunities

After an overnight stop near Pamplona, we travel on to our final stop of this tour in Ibarra, a small town about 30 km south of San Sebastian. Here, we arrive at Obeki, a manufacturer of electric motors which, up until now, have primarily been used in various lifting applications across construction, marine and other areas.

“Somewhere between 80 and 90% of global production of electric motors is in low-cost countries,” says Javier Múgica, commercial director. “That means that in Europe, the business is largely based on logistics, warehousing and distribution. Obeki isn’t involved in that; instead, we provide specialised solutions with non-standard features, such as braking systems and higher torque.”

As part of this, Obeki has been looking to increase its R&D capacity, with clever product designs supporting new business opportunities. “We’re looking to develop products for demanding customers which have higher requirements than those using standard electric motors,” he states.

According to Múgica, Obeki produces about 4,200 units per annum. “This is nothing for a company in China,” he explains. But for those motors, the company develops about 700 unique designs each year. “A production run of 10 motors is not unusual for us, although some customers might even want just one unit.”

Motor assembly hall at Obeki Motor assembly hall at Obeki

There are two benefits to such customisation. One, the motor is specific for its intended purpose, meaning that it is ideally suited to the application – and guaranteed as such. But with that, should there be an issue, Obeki stands behind each motor it produces. “If there’s an issue, large companies will only try and sell you another motor. We will save money and time, where possible, by fixing the motor already in place.”

Building on this expertise, Múgica says that the next step is to broaden the number of markets using Obeki motors. “We’re now working on projects which capture renewable energy from the oceans. Our motors are part of systems which collect energy from waves.” This requires not only peak motor efficiency (based on material choice and design) to minimise energy loss, but also rugged designs which can withstand the harsh conditions.

These energy collection systems are still in the prototype phase. But with investigations into the tech happening in Spain, the UK and Australia (amongst others), the goal is to create a network of companies capable of delivering a regular supply of related components.

Based on this Múgica says that Obeki has plans to provide motors for applications with conditions which are even more savage. “Nuclear plants have motors powering various functions, fans and pumps for cooling systems, etc. If they are near the reactor, they must be certified to withstand a variety of circumstances, such as an earthquake, and use materials which will not decay due to the radioactivity. We would like to get involved in developing sophisticated motors for this type of application.”

Challenges remain

As China has grown into its role as the lead global location for volume production of machines and components, European companies in the same businesses sectors have been forced to find unique selling propositions beyond basic low cost by which to attract and retain customers.

It’s apparent over these visits that the challenges presented by COVID and the subsequent supply chain issues are now coming to an end – at least in one case, a larger inventory now serves as a production buffer. But while the effects of the pandemic fade, new challenges will require constant monitoring and implementation of agile solutions.

In each of the cases outlined in this article, from Roquet through to Obeki, the companies have managed to maintain (or grow) market share by leveraging requisite expertise in a specific business area, whether that is quality, customisation or customer service.

It’s a self-evident truism that there will always be a market for cheap solutions. But in cases where a part is needed as soon as possible, where quality (and guaranteed uptime) is a must, or a new solution needs developing to suit a specific application, a more responsive company is likely to be the best choice.

This article was produced with support from ICEX, the Spanish Institute of Foreign Trade, and ANMOPYC, the representative organisation in Spain for companies delivering technologies for the construction and mining industries.

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