Gates Distributor Saves $10k

How One Distributor Improved In-House Hydraulic Hose Test to Improve Output and Saved Up to $10,000

Problem: Time and Costs Lost from Testing Fluid Samples Offsite

Gulf Controls Company (GCC) is a Gates factory-authorized distributor based in Tampa, Florida. GCC had been pursuing the hydraulic hose business of a large OEM for years. Finally they secured a small portion of the business. This OEM customer has stringent requirements for validating the cleanliness of the hydraulic hose assemblies provided to them. To meet these requirements, GCC was sending sample hose assemblies out to an accredited independent testing lab for ISO certification. Quarterly testing of five hoses cost $2,500 and getting the reports back took from 3-10 weeks.

Hydraulic fluid cleanliness is vital in order to maximize equipment reliability and safety, minimize repair and replacement costs, extend useful fluid life, satisfy warranty requirements, and reduce downtime. Standards vary depending on the degree of sensitivity to contamination of the component in the hydraulic system. For example, hoses going to a hydrostatic transmission that costs $10,000 or more must be absolutely clean to avoid carrying contaminants that might damage this expensive component. Other hoses carrying fluid farther out in the system don’t have to meet quite the same high standard for cleanliness.

The most common cleanliness reporting procedures are established by ISO (International Organization for Standardization).

A widely accepted standard, ISO Cleanliness Code 4406, quantifies particulate contamination levels per milliliter of fluid in three different size categories: 4, 6, and 14 microns. The number of particles in each size category is counted and the absolute count converted to an ISO range code. The three-part range code is used to define allowable particulate counts for various types of equipment.

Solution: Cleanliness Testing Capability and Competitive Positioning

Early in the sales process, GCC worked closely with the Gates Product Application Engineers and the Gates Cleanliness Test Lab to meet the necessary cleanliness levels. GCC refined material handling controls and assembly procedures so that they were getting consistently exceptional results. Gates provided cleanliness testing and consulted throughout the process. Once the processes at GCC were sound, a relationship with an outside testing lab for ongoing process monitoring was established.

The outside testing done by GCC validated the cleanliness of their hose assemblies. However, the testing was costly to GCC, and the customer wanted more frequent reporting than quarterly. This situation prompted GCC to set up an in-house testing lab. Since Gates maintains a hose cleanliness testing lab at its Customer Solutions Center (CSC) in Englewood, Colorado, GCC reached out to Gates for help. Tim Deans, Gates Engineering Project Manager, visited GCC to describe the cleanliness testing process and equipment used by Gates. GCC secured the needed equipment and set it up. But there’s a difference between having a tool and knowing how to use it. According to Alex Quinn, GCC Product Manager, “We had a target for the results we wanted, but that’s different from having experience with the equipment. We were struggling to obtain consistent results.”

That’s when Deans made a special appeal for help to Kathrin Dietsche, Gates Cleanliness Lab Technician at the CSC. Although this was far outside the scope of Kathrin’s normal duties and responsibilities, she eagerly accepted the challenge. Dietsche brought her expertise to Florida and spent a week at GCC, helping train their personnel in the proper testing procedures. Her extra effort earned both thanks and praise from Quinn: “Since cleanliness testing is brand new to us, we were unsure how to handle test samples and how much variation we might expect to see in the results. With the benefit of your experience, we can approach this new (and somewhat complicated) program with confidence.”

As a result GCC now has the added capability of cleanliness testing and reporting compliant with ISO 4406. This capability has helped them win additional business from their OEM customers. It has also saved them the $10,000+ annual cost of sending hose assemblies out to independent test labs and waiting up to ten weeks for the report. 

Having a cleanliness test lab helps separate GCC from its competitors, provides an added service to attract customers, and allows internal monitoring of the effectiveness of GCC hose cleaning and assembly procedures. As Quinn says, “The real story is not so much about cost savings; it’s about strength of brand and the ability to provide a product of unquestionable quality.”

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