Responses to questions from International Metalworking News Asia
From Sabrina Zhang, Director for Aftermarket Sales, Services and RMI Operations in China
1) What are the global trends in the high-pressure pumps industry?
Users of high pressure pumps are increasingly focused on energy efficiency and sustainability. We have seen this trend clearly in China. Just a decade ago, for instance, our patented ODIN® (On Demand Intelligence) control logic system was a significant innovation in the local market – using variable speed control to optimise performance and save energy. Today, it is common to see longwall mining tenders specifying the inclusion of variable speed drives in a system. Customers really pay attention to efficiency, as this can deliver considerable financial savings.
We have also seen rapid developments in the technology and design of high pressure pumps, including the material used. This has led to more robust products and user-friendly control systems.
Predictive maintenance has also been an important focus in China, combined with remote monitoring of high pressure pumps systems. This has a special relevance for underground mining, as it allows personnel to perform more of their work from surface – enhancing both safety and productivity as personnel do not need to travel to the coalface as often, and can spend less time in potentially hazardous zones. In addition to monitoring, the operator can even control aspects of the pumps remotely.
2) Have you noticed any changes in the expectations and requirements of your customers in China (APAC) since the Covid-19 pandemic?
Most readers will be familiar with the very strict lockdowns in China over the three years of the Covid-19 pandemic; during this time, coal mines still needed to meet certain production targets so that the country had electrical power. Our customers therefore needed reliable and uninterrupted access to spare parts and service. The severe disruptions to the global supply chain meant that we had to keep more inventory – both at our factory in Shanghai and at our warehouses close to our customers.
We also ramped up our localisation strategy to deal with the logistical uncertainties of importing goods; this led to more local sourcing, so that we could shorten our lead times to customers. With the travel restrictions, we also located service engineers closer to the mine sites so that they could visit customers regularly and maintain a high level of technical service.
One of the main outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic was that equipment manufacturers and suppliers had to find innovative ways to improve the resilience of their supply chains. Among the ways we achieved this as RMI Pressure Systems was by upgrading our Shanghai production facilities and diversifying our sourcing strategy.
3) How do you view the adoption of high-pressure systems in the Asia Pacific region?
High pressure reciprocating pumps are employed in many industry sectors from mining and steelmaking to oil and gas – with various applications requiring their own performance specifications or even materials of construction. There is a competitive market in the supply of these high pressure systems, although there is a wide variety in the quality of offerings and their reliability. As an early entrant to the market in China, RMI Pressure Systems have been differentiated through our robust design and our manufacturing expertise. These factors give customers high uptime levels and longer equipment life – for a lower total cost of ownership.
4) What is your role in driving growth for your products and solutions in China?
There are three main areas of focus in my role within RMI China, starting with aftermarket sales – which I have already managed for the past five years. This is a critical area of our responsibility to existing customers, keeping their RMI pumps well maintained and productive. In this way, we have built a loyal customer base that trusts our systems and support.
The second key aspect of driving RMI’s growth in China has been the process of earning certification from the MA Centre, which we achieved in April this year. The MA Centre is the Chinese agency responsible for approving and certifying the safety of mining products before they can be used underground. This opens up the market substantially for us, as we now qualify to participate in many more tenders where our products match the technical tender requirements. Up to this year, we have only been permitted to submit proposals for about three tenders each year; this number now increases potentially to hundreds of opportunities. Of course, our success will rely on our ability to be cost-competitive among many local suppliers. Our localisation strategy is aimed at doing this, while maintaining the high quality for which our pump solutions are known.
Thirdly, we are continuing to develop our marketing channels in China for new system sales, adding to the partnerships we have with local agents, representatives and distributors.
5) Which business segments make you feel confident about the opportunities ahead for the company in the next year; and are you noticing demand emerging from any new industry or segment?
With our recent MA certification, there are exciting opportunities to grow our presence in the longwall coal mining segment of the market – where we have been established for over 30 years. We expect to increase our new system sales, as we are now able to participate in many more tenders in this segment – and can build on our strong reputation in this industry.
In addition to powering longwall equipment underground, our high pressure reciprocating pump systems also play a role in dust suppression and cleaning in coal mines. These applications point to a range of other industries that could be potential markets for these systems, such as water and wastewater treatment.
6) What do you think are the key manufacturing priorities in APAC for 2023 and how can your technology give the industry a positive outlook for the future.
Our key manufacturing priorities at the moment are to continue building resilience in our supply chain, while at the same time progress our localisation strategy. These two imperatives are allowing us to diversify our sourcing, to improve pricing and lead times – which in turn will assist us in our efforts to improve cost-competitiveness.
Another important element of our manufacturing strategy is to incorporate more intelligent technology in our system solutions to customers. Beyond our expertise in pump design and manufacture, we are also responding to customers’ needs for automation and intelligent mining strategies. This means gathering and analysing data on pumps’ operating functions, to predict what maintenance is required – thereby avoiding unscheduled downtime. Operators can run our pumps from a centralised operating room, improving safety and efficiency.
Our intelligent emulsion mixer unit, for instance, can measure the concentration of the oil-water mix and keep the concentration within the required parameters. We also use our patented control logic system ODIN® (On Demand Intelligence) to proactively collect the combined face pressure signal and powered roof support initiation of the longwall mining systems – to enhance their performance. This kind of technology is an essential part of building economies that are safe, productive and sustainable.