Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio — Guy Enta has seen a lot of changes during his 33 years in the rubber business, and he thinks the hose industry will evolve even faster over the next decade or so.
The vice president and head of Continental A.G.'s Americas region for the ContiTech Industrial Fluid Solutions business touched on a number of the changes he has seen — and expects to see — in the hose sector during a wide ranging keynote address at the recent Hose Manufacturers Conference in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
Among the topics he touched on are the impact of automotive trends and the increasing use of plastics in hose; changes in how the Internet has impacted the industrial world; and the future of connectivity.
"We've all seen a lot of changes, but I see a lot of changes coming," Enta said. "The good news is I think the hose business will always be there and always be viable, and I think if you can adapt with technology to those changes, you not only can survive but you can thrive in the business."
From a product standpoint, looking at automotive engine compartments, temperatures are higher, the need for fuel efficiency is greater and the desire to make products more environmentally friendly have driven changes in materials. In his time in the industry, he said he's seen four compound changes, from nitrile/neoprene to epichlorohydrin elastomers and chloroprene, and now to Vamac fluoroelastomers.
Talking about electric vehicle technology, Enta said the engine compartment has more room, but there actually may be more opportunities for hose. His colleagues in the mobile fluid systems unit at Conti showed him one assembly used for cooling in a hybrid vehicle that had a hose that was more than 4 meters long.
The shifting of the automotive industry away from internal combustion engines to EVs also will have other, less obvious consequences. For example, the ContiTech exec said his firm sells a lot of gas pump hose, with one factory having a third of its volume in the product. He said he doesn't know how many gas stations there will be in North America 20 years from now, but there are likely to be fewer.
"Right away we see impact," Enta said. "Twenty years from now or 10 years from now, one of the quickest ways to not be successful in business is to get an increasing share of a decreasing market."
There also are more plastics being used in automotive, and he said that will have a spillover effect into industrial applications. "Automotive drives volume, volume drives technology and technology invariably spills over into the industrial side of our business," Enta said.
ContiTech has invested close to $10 million in production of plastics hose at its U.S. manufacturing facilities and also recently closed on the purchase of the flexible hose business of Daverio, Italy-based Merlett Group for an undisclosed amount.
Technology for plastics hoses is more advanced on the automotive side, whereas he said in industrial the products have slightly less temperature resistance than needed on the high end, and are slightly more stiff than hoped for on the cold temperature side of the business.
"Once plastic technology can cross those limits, I think it offers a huge cost advantage," Enta said. "I also think it offers a huge weight advantage and it offers a huge processing advantage because you don't have to cure it. And you have the potential to come up with the first recyclable hose."