The thing we call globalization was early taken advantage of — was in fact first accomplished by —industrial mega-corporations with the means to distribute product worldwide. The next step taken was to position productive capacity in regional configurations.
Today, responding to developing-world infrastructure demand, even mid-size industrial providers — which for present purposes may include those with $1 billion to $2.5 billion in annual revenues — are expanding internationally. Some are doing so at a fierce rate.
One such is heavy-duty valve, pump and systems supplier Flowrox, a Finnish company that’s been in existence more than 30 years, but that in 2013 added subsidiaries in Russia and China to a list that already included operations in North America, South Africa and Australia.
"To address a global opportunity, Flowrox is making sure it manufactures and distributes its products on each major continent, with South America still remaining to be accomplished," says Todd Loudin, president of Flowrox Group’s North American operations. "Being a Finnish company we already have long-term relationships in Russia. Manufacturing in China will be important for us."
With global headquarters in Lappeenrante, Finland, and known as Flowrox since 2011, the company’s heritage is as a pinch-valve manufacturer, and it is said to make more of them than anyone else in the world. In 2003, it introduced a heavy-duty peristaltic pump; in 2008 invested in the services provision capabilities needed to be a solutions provider; and in 2009 added a knife-gate valve to its portfolio.
As discussed recently in a Processing blog, the markets for equipment for process operations aren’t dominated by their major suppliers the way even some related markets are. For example, major industrial automation and software vendors seem to gobble up emerging product lines soon after they are launched.
The complexity and diversity of the mechanically driven markets, however, means mid-size providers continually find relevant niches, most especially today by combining products and services to deliver solutions. Flowrox serves heavy industries — mining, metallurgy, energy, cement, pulp & paper and chemicals — with solutions for abrasive and corrosive materials, including shut-off, control, pumping and dosing applications.
"Mining is a big part of what we do," says Loudin. "Heavy-duty knife gate valves with the right rubber linings are important. We have peristaltic pumps that can move 80% solids. That eliminates the need to dilute the stream and then recondition the water. We have valve and pump solutions for the many challenging flows found in the North American shale gas and oil fields."
To compete, says Loudin, "the most important thing is to have the longest mean-time to failure. If you have that, you’re able to compete based on the honest premise that quality costs."
In particular, Loudin points to the company’s rubber formulations, all important in securing shut-offs and minimizing maintenance. "We use standard SKF bearings so as to avoid proprietary items. The rubber sleeves, however, are ours and we stock them. In fact, our parts inventory is equivalent to about 1/6th our annual sales. That’s an investment we make to ensure we don’t let customers down. Our training programs serve the same purpose."
According to Loudin, it’s not over yet. "Flowrox Automation will focus on scaling sensors. Our joint venture partner, Rocsole, has combined mathematical modeling with industrial measurement in an innovative way and we’ll be launching solutions aimed at our industries later this year."