Hydraulics and electrification are providing a range of future opportunities and challenges for companies producing lubricants and hydraulic fluids.
Big changes are coming for the hydraulics industry with the increase in electrification of vehicles, digital controls and actuators. However, hydraulic systems themselves look set to stay for a while because of their high power density.
As a result of electrification of commercial vehicles, demand for fuel and lubricants looks set to fall over the coming years, but there will be new opportunities for lubricant, fuel and hydraulic fluid manufacturers that stay ahead of the curve, according to our analysis in the Global Truck, Bus and Off-highway Vehicle Electrification and Alternative Fuel report.
The off-highway commercial sector is electrifying, particularly among smaller vehicles such as skid steers, boom lifts and smaller forklifts. However, the sector overall is electrifying much more slowly than the on-highway commercial vehicles market.
Off-highway and hydraulics market offers additional lubricants opportunities
In terms of lubricants, there are additional opportunities in off-highway commercial vehicles in particular because of the widespread use of hydraulics in this sector. Hydraulics offer a huge opportunity in off-highway to improve efficiency and lubricants have a part to play, with vehicle manufacturers often involved in the development of different lubricants for their machines. By their nature, hydraulics are very inefficient but the power density offered is unmatched by other technologies, and batteries make it even more important not to draw more power than necessary.
There were some actuators on show at this year’s ConExpo trade show, but hydraulics seem here to stay, gradually augmented with digital or electronic features. Currently JLG scissor lifts and actuators from Ewellix are the only commercially available vehicles because of the low force ranges currently available. Material handling is one of fastest growing sectors for electro-hydraulics and electro-mechanical actuators. In addition, modular systems are becoming more popular and have fewer energy or fluid loss points, with integrated valves in pumps, or the pump, motor and cylinder packaged together. This reduces the need for lubricants but rising fuel bills are likely to increase demand for high performance lubricants that reduce energy usage.
New formulations for hydraulic fluids
Hydraulic fluid takes a long time to break down and can cause health problems so safer and biodegradeable formulations are being developed alongside ways to reduce the amount of hydraulic oil required by systems. This has likely driven the rapid growth in electrification within the material handling sector, where off-highway machines are more likely to operate inside. As the graph below shows, material handling is becoming an increasingly large proportion of the global mobile hydraulics market, with revenues expected to climb through to 2026 and the rapid electrification of off-highway technology such as forklifts and scissor lifts driving up demand for components such as new hydraulic systems and actuators in the segment.
This greater emphasis on more sustainable lubricants and hydraulic fluids, and those that reduce wear, coupled with easier recovery and recycling tie in with legislation in place for hydraulic fluid in machines such as those used in food processing. In addition, Petro Canada has already released a biodegradeable hydraulic fluid for forestry machinery that is suitable for sensitive environments and could potentially also work for construction.
What does the future hold for hydraulics and hydraulic fluids?
The gradual movement in Europe and the US towards off-highway electrification, particularly of lower power machines, has also started to impact the hydraulics industry, creating greater need for energy efficiency to reduce the power demand on batteries. This has seen some indications of hydraulic replacement, but traditional systems are expected to dominate out to 2027, with strong growth forecast in the material handling, warehouse and logistics sector, which will become the second largest segment for hydraulics after agriculture and construction as more processes are automated. We predict, therefore, that demand will grow for lubricants and hydraulic fluids that optimize the performance of electric off-highway machines.
To learn more about the future of the hydraulic fluid and lubricants market, download our Global Truck, Bus and Off-highway Vehicle Electrification and Alternative Fuel report.