South African importer of Chinese hydraulic hose Genflex Hydraulics director David Michelle says that there has been a general increase in the importation of hydraulic hose from the Far East, a situation which has not been without challenges.
Genflex managment visits its overseas suppliers two to three times a year to continue to test and approve the quality of products being imported. Michelle says that the company will not supply any hydraulic hose that has not been pressure-tested to twice the working pressure, and certificated, before it is packed in containers.
He says that, when following up on leads with hydraulic hose and fittings suppliers during his most recent visit to China, he was made aware of a need for initial caution when receiving e-mailed quotations and bulk discount offers to South African hydraulic hose importers.
Michelle also adds that the number of new hydraulic hose manufacturers and suppliers that are now operating from China has definitely increased, but that the cost and the quality of products varies extensively.
"The quality of mandrels generally varies from steel pipes, to soft rubber mandrels, to high quality nylon mandrels. Further, extrusions onto mandrels, in many cases, are not up to standard as they are extruded eccentrically, lowering the life of the product," says Michelle.
Throughout the visit to China, the Genflex delegation constantly checked the products on offer from new suppliers to establish whether they met the Genflex criteria of quality, reliability and safety, and very few did in the delegates' opinion.
Michelle says he was surprised to discover that very few of the Chinese manufacturers had inspection testing machines available, and even fewer could pressure test to destruction. Of the nine hose manufacturers he visited, not one had an abrasion testing facility for the outer covers. Samples for abrasion testing were in fact sent to Genflex in Johannesburg for quality determination.
However, the story is somewhat different when it comes to Genflex's original Chinese supplier, which has become different to its contemporaries in terms of its fertile relationship and ongoing dialogue with Genflex regarding quality and safety standards.
Genflex worked in setting up inspection and standard measuring technologies with this supplier over many years, and it has become apparent that the relationship has seen the Chinese company's standards rise to the point where it has become a benchmark in that regard, while other Chinese manufacturers seem to lag.
"If one has no established relationship and thus no direct dealings with one's factory agent in China, then the products supplied may not meet the stipulated standards and quality. Some manufacturers are known to use recycled rubber products to mould into hydraulic hose products, increasing profit margins while producing a cheaper product all round and thus reducing the safety credibility of the product," says Michelle.
Michelle estimates that 95% of e-mails received from new suppliers do not come from credible manufacturers. "While many of the hoses originating from China have Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) or Deutsches Institut für Normung specifications on it, a lot of the product will come into South Africa unbranded and unmarked."
The British Fluid Power Association recommends that all hoses must carry the manufacturer's name, brand or trademark, date of manufacture, type of hose, and size and working pressure, so as to retain a sense of manufacturing responsibility and traceability.
Genflex has established strict standards for its own products, and over the past four years the company's chosen Chinese supplier has been expected to meet these standards, to the extent that Genflex will only accept supplies of hydraulic hose from the one Chinese source that meets the Genflex pressure tested specifications.
Michelle says that, in his view, most hydraulic hose being used in Europe, South America, Asia and Africa within the next five years will originate from the Far East, and China in particular, irrespective of the branding printed on the outer cover.
"Intense research into the source of supply and the establishment of a mutually beneficial relationship can help ensure that the product arriving in South Africa is up to the desired standard," he adds.
Genflex has placed large orders with its particular reliable Chinese supplier, which happens to be one of Asia's largest vehicle hose manufacturers, to supply brake hose and fittings to the South African automotive sector.
Genflex's Chinese supplier supplies automotive rubber hoses, assemblies and seals to motor manufacturers based in Asia, such as Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, Chrysler, Citroen, Mercedes Benz, Peugeot, Nissan and General Motors. The company manufactures about 1,5-million brake hose assemblies a month and two-million hoses a month as booster hoses for applications in power steering and air-conditioning for the Chinese vehicle and railway sectors.
Genflex MD Bruce Garner says that on his visit to China to ascertain the quality of the particular manufacturer's facilities and hose products, he was interested to see what testing standards were in place to ensure that hose quality could be guaranteed.
"I was suitably impressed. The salt spray and whip testing facilities that I saw are of top quality, and leave no doubt in my mind that Genflex's alignment with a company with such stringent testing resources will enable Genflex to penetrate the automotive sector in South Africa successfully," he says.
Meanwhile, one of the products Genflex has newly imported is the grey multispiral hose, manufactured to the 4SP specifications, of which the working and burst pressures are considerably higher than the standard SAE 100 grey multispiral hose manufactured to the R12 specifications.
These levels of resilience are necessary in mining activities where vehicular machinery and other equipment is typically much larger and more powerful than regular industrial equipment, thus requiring greater hydraulic pressures to make it work.
Genflex agrees that there is a need for a higher working pressure for the South African market than the limited grey R12, which has been used in the country for nearly 30 years.
While 4SP has been available for many years in South Africa, it has only been with the black outer cover. This has meant that when technicians remove hoses for replacement work done on machinery, it is difficult to establish whether it is a braided or a multispiral hose by sight, as both appear indistinguishably black. By having a grey outer cover on the 4SP, it makes it easier for the technician to identify the hose as multispiral. This in itself helps reduce downtime and alleviates problems caused by wrong hose replacement.
Having the two different colour hoses makes it easier for both technicians and operators to quickly identify the type of hose that has burst. This quick response might save the company expensive extended downtime or oil losses by facilitating fast repair.