Pneumatic motion control components industry expands

London, U.K.—A new report by Frost & Sullivan projects steady growth patterns for the European pneumatic motion control components market, and estimates that it will expand from 1.26 billion euros in 2003 to 1.54 billion in 2009.


London, U.K.— The integration of electronics and sensors with pneumatic motion control components is helping pneumatic machines keep pace their main rivals—electric machines. At the same time, simple, user-friendly technology is giving pneumatic systems an edge over more complex electric counterparts. However, price declines and relocation of manufacturing facilities from Europe to emerging nations are threatening to impede this market growth, according to a research report, B209, by Frost & Sullivan .

'The major drawback of pneumatic components to the end-user is that they're inaccurate when compared to electric machines. Once accurate and repeatable positioning can be achieved, encroachment of electric machines will be eliminated in most applications,' says George Turnage, Frost & Sullivan's analyst.

Fortunately for manufacturers, the growing assimilation of electronics with pneumatic components is likely to result in economical, hybridized systems that facilitate improved position control and better information feedback. The integration of sensors is expected to further advance positioning possibilities.

Besides the outlays and skills needed to maintain electric machines, the cost of programming and maintaining them is also considerable. The report adds that pneumatic components are increasingly identified by simple designs, easy-to-use technology and low maintenance costs.

'Pneumatics are less expensive than electromechanical alternatives and cleaner than hydraulic machines. Pneumatic equipment is invariably the first choice of companies looking to automate a production process,' says Turnage. 'Furthermore, as labor costs in Europe continue to increase, the trend towards process automation is expected to remain strong for the purpose of cost control.'

Automation is seen as offering the benefits of extended work schedules, fewer personnel, and less overhead. The report adds that this inevitable transition from human labor to automation is likely to boost uptake of pneumatic motion control components across the entire industrial sector. For example, new applications in the packaging industry are generating insatiable demand for pneumatic components. With a continual and ever-expanding stream of new products needing to be packaged, the requirement for pneumatic components is expected to increase.

Supported by these trends, Frost & Sullivan's study found that Europe's pneumatic motion control components market is on course to emerge from its 2002 slump. Steady growth patterns are projected from 2003 onwards, with the market poised to expand from 1.26 million euros to 1.54 million euros in 2009.

Because it has the greatest number of applications, the European pneumatic market's ISO/VDMA segment made up the largest percentage of revenues for the total market at 40.7% in 2002, followed by rotary actuators. Both segments are expected to maintain their respective positions as the largest contributors to revenues over the long term. These segments will be followed by air bellows/air springs, grippers, vacuum components, shock absorbers, slide actuators, rodless actuators and non-repairable actuators segments.

Despite optimistic forecasts, the reports adds that decreasing prices of pneumatic systems pose a critical restraint to maximizing revenue growth. Intensifying competition has underlined price degradation with the entire market likely to suffer as manufacturers increasingly focus on price, rather than on quality or features.

In addition, price competition is likely to transform the actuators market into a commodity-type market, and provide end-users greater leverage in influencing prices. A pricing strategy coupled with a skilled direct sales-force is seen as key to addressing this challenge and capturing market share within a short period. A prominent example of this focused strategy has been the exceptional growth experienced by SMC, a price leader in the market.

Sounding a warning to smaller manufacturers, Turnage adds that, 'The trend to consolidation has been fortified by the overall strength of full-line international manufacturers like Festo, Bosch/Rexroth and Parker Hannifin. As these 'juggernauts' continue to attract existing pneumatics users as well as new customers, it is expected smaller manufacturers may find it difficult to survive.'

Although the industry is decidedly upbeat, the shift of manufacturing facilities from Europe to emerging nations is an ongoing cause for concern. The report adds that cheaper labor costs in Asian regions translate into lower manufacturing costs and ultimately cheaper products. Unable to compete with Asia-based competitors on price, European manufacturers stand to lose market shares.

While such challenges will have to be addressed sooner rather than later, there is no doubt that steady growth is in the cards. A focused pricing strategy, training and support of distributors and acquisition of a complete product line will be the three critical tools of market success, concludes Frost & Sullivan's report.

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Jim Montague, news editor

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