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Milestone Pump Technology Standing Out Through Innovation: Only by Really Understanding the Users Is It Possible to Become the World Market Leader in Pump Technology

Author / Editor: Hans-Jürgen Bittermann / Dominik Stephan

What do operators of the technology-focused process industry expect from a pump manufacturer? Well, they certainly expect in-depth application knowledge relating to all aspects of central production processes. Industry-specific know-how is and always has been an important driving force behind innovation at Grundfos. Today, other topics like resource efficiency and sustainability are gaining hugely in importance.

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With three-quarters of a century of experience, the number 1 in the world of pumps connects digital and physical fluidics.
With three-quarters of a century of experience, the number 1 in the world of pumps connects digital and physical fluidics.
(Source: Grundfos)

Quo vadis, Grundfos? Founded in 1945, the pump and system supplier with around 19,000 employees in 56 countries and revenue of 3.6 billion euros is the number 1 worldwide. But even the market and technology leader cannot rest on the laurels of its past successes. What is the company going to do to maintain its leading position? For Mads Nipper, CEO and Group President of Grundfos, the way forward is clear. In the future, the application — and not the product — will continue to be the priority. Nipper is convinced that cross-system, customer-oriented solutions and plant optimizations will become increasingly more important. “It has always been our application expertise that has set us apart more than anything else from our competition, and this is what has enabled us to offer the best possible solutions.”

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That was already the case back in the “pig” days. In 1945, the six-man operation headed by Poul Due Jensen in Bjerringbro/Denmark received an order to supply water to a farm. It proved difficult to source a suitable pump — so Jensen simply designed one himself, which was then given the nickname “pig” on account of its shape: a groundwater piston pump in a pressure vessel, fitted with a pressure switch. This development — today we would talk of a “user-oriented system solution” — was the starting point for an impressive success story and signaled the customer focus for which Grundfos is so well-known.

To the young company boss, it was clear that the market of the European Economic Community played a major role for his emerging and ambitious company. Since Denmark was not a member of the EEC, the company needed to find a location within the economic community, and In 1960 Jensen founded the first production company outside of Denmark in Wahlstedt in Northern Germany and relocated to Germany with his family. Technically adept and highly creative, he designed the “carousel” from his new home — a machine tool that would go on to play a major role on the route to mass production of circulator pumps.

Innovation-driven and Strong Know-how

Grundfos places great value on its ability to keep delivering innovations, something that is also reflected in the guiding principles of the company: “Be — Think — Innovate.” Its knack of continuously finding new production routes and refining the available materials are two of the key characteristics of the company. By taking full advantage of the opportunities and limits of technology and exploiting new attitudes and new approaches, manufacturing techniques and technology have been developed over the years that were subsequently also adopted by other manufacturers.

Alongside the decision to opt for stainless steel, a segment-based design is a key element of Grundfos pumps. The idea behind this is simple. Geometrically complex impellers and guide wheels are broken down into individual parts that can be accurately shaped, manufactured with the highest possible precision and then assembled. The advantages:

  • practical realization of the perfect geometry
  • use of corrosion-resistant, difficult to cast materials
  • extremely good dimensional accuracy and surface finish quality
  • larger flow area than cast materials

The segmented design also allows automated manufacturing to a great extent, with consistently high precision for all parts.

A History Lesson About Pumps From Grundfos

Who invented it? No, it wasn't Grundfos — but it was the company’s engineers who took the advantages of multi-stage pumps and carefully translated them into various new designs. Multi-stage rotary pumps (featuring multiple impellers arranged in a row on a joint shaft) can be designed to be compact and consist largely of standardized, cylindrical workpieces. From August 1952, Grundfos started manufacturing the first multi-stage rotary pump CP3, which in turn provided the basis for mass production, thereby helping shape the DNA of the Danish company.

One year later Grundfos presented the BP borehole pump. The smaller impeller diameters are compensated for by having the impellers arranged tightly one above the other so that the required discharge head and flow rate is achieved. This was followed in 1965 by the SP series of streamlined submerged rotary pumps made of chrome-nickel steel 1.4301. The pumps are also available in stainless steel versions for aggressive media like seawater and contaminated fluids. The octagonal bearings are water-lubricated, leaving grains of sand with no opportunity to get stuck as they are simply flushed out. A suction strainer on the infeed side prevents solids from entering the pump. The risk of water hammers is minimized by a fast-closing check valve.

From the early days in a cellar workshop to Smart Pump 4.0 — join us on a tour through the history of Grundfos

When Application Knowledge Meets Passion
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Another milestone was the development of multi-stage high-pressure pumps — the CR series made of gray cast iron/stainless steel and the CRN series made entirely from stainless steel. Thanks to the modular design of the CR pumps, users from industry, local authorities or OEM clients have a wide choice of variants and additional equipment options. Different materials are available for a wide range of media, also including special mechanical seals and a design with a magnetic coupling. Thanks to the modular design principle, around one million different CR variants can be manufactured.

The Motor Revolution From Denmark — On the Route to a “Smart Pump”

It always has been and remains the goal of Grundfos to manufacture as many components in-house as possible. This is why the company also manufactures the motors and electronics for the open and closed-loop control systems itself. This allowed the company back to develop a circulator pump with variable speed as far back as 1962. In 1991 the UPE range of pumps was added to the range, the first circulator pump with an integrated frequency converter.

This development led to the MGE motor, which still remains an important unique selling point for the company to this day and was a defining factor in making smart e-pumps with their interactive capabilities possible. Integrated micro frequency converters match the drive to the operational demands, while high-performance sensors ensure pump availability. A key basis for this was the fact that the company already started developing algorithms in the 1980s — Grundfos was one of the first suppliers to integrate software and electronics in a pump.

While for decades pump developers focused on hydraulics, today the drive unit, the measurement, instrumentation and control systems and specific software and cloud solutions have gained importance. With the drive systems, the focus is on three developments — reduced use of materials, reduced motor losses and, last but not least, the use of different designs. Permanent-magnet synchronous motors require no additional energy in order to magnetize the rotor because the thermally stable high-performance magnets ensure permanent magnetization.

Thanks to the high energy density of the rotor, the copper stator can be designed to be much smaller. Since 2017 Grundfos has supplied such a drive in the performance class between 0.75 and 11 kW with IE5 classification — the highest energy efficiency classification in the world for electric motors. Compared to an IE4 motor the losses have been reduced by 20 %, resulting in significantly reduced lifecycle costs.

Modular Variant Concept Delivers a Building Block Approach for Pumps

Manufacturers and users alike emphasize the importance and value of standardization — after all, the notion suggests lower production costs, reduced outlay for spare parts and easy replaceability, all combined with lower storage costs. There can be no doubt that standards are also helpful in the world of pump design. But the flipside is that 100 % individual design is often not possible, and it can be more complex and more involved to make the necessary adjustments that are required to adapt solutions to individual operating conditions.

This is particularly important for plant and process engineering companies. On the one hand they expect the sophisticated, highly-evolved technology and low costs associated with a standard pump, but on the other hand they need a pump solution that will perfectly cover the specific boundary conditions of their plant. Nowadays another important requirement has been added to the mix, with the requirement that pumps need to operate as energy efficiently as possible. This is an opportunity for OEM suppliers to offer something different and stand out, as secondary processes often offer significant energy reserves, particularly as pumps are among the most “energy hungry” components.

Grundfos Aims to Be More than Just Another Supplier

For this task, Grundfos counts on its “Task Force OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer).” The basis for this is formed by some 400 scientists, engineers and technicians at the Research and Development Center in Bjerringbro, Denmark, who are continuously working to improve existing products and develop new ones. Specific materials, designs, drive technology and closed-loop control systems are taken into account here, as are the individual requirements of the customers.

Grundfos has now decided to prioritize selected business areas in which the company is already active or in which it sees a realistic opportunity to become the number 1 or 2. Mads Nipper: “The most important foundation for this is for us to stand out through innovation.” The company has no aspirations for delivering narrow solutions at the lowest price. “That would not take us to where we want to be.” But because increasing cost pressures have to be expected, continuous improvements and operational excellence in all parts of the value creation chain are essential in order to be able to invest in innovation and achieve long-term differentiation from competitors.

One-stop Philosophy For All Auxiliary Processes

Grundfos offers an extensive product portfolio for auxiliary processes (also referred to as secondary processes) that is unique both in terms of width (range of designs) and depth (material variants, performance classes). And not only that, but the solutions are designed to be indispensable in central production processes in every business field. This one-stop philosophy is designed to make selection easier for users who often operate several such cycles. The portfolio includes solutions for almost all central processes, with the addition of disinfection technology and extensive digital concepts.

With this range of products and systems, Grundfos is also active in the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. Typical applications can be found in the area of cleaning, in bottle washing systems and in filtration plants. CIP cycles, where alkaline and acidic cleaners are required one after the other, require durable and resistant stainless steel pumps like the high-pressure pumps in the CR series or the standard/block pumps in the NK/NB series.

This type of stainless steel pump is also used in primary processes in the life sciences industry in applications where the hygienic requirements on the pumps play a secondary role on account of the high temperatures involved, for example in transport systems for spices or mash, in blanching processes or for transporting hot oils.

Pump Technology Pioneers on the Path to Industry 4.0

Grundfos is pursuing a multi-stage digitalization strategy for pump installation monitoring combined with remote access. Another building block is alerting systems that send notifications to the operator, combined with a portfolio of solutions. This is followed by optimization of the system, i.e. guidance on finding ways to run the system more efficiently and more cost effectively and to eliminate incorrect system settings. This is all under the watchful eye of a predictive analysis system that notifies the operator when and where failure can be expected in the near future.

The focus is on connectivity and integration in the control and communication system. Grundfos has developed the “Isolutions” concept for this, where the hydraulics, drive, sensors, measurement, instrumentation and control systems and specific software are all carefully coordinated with each other. Wireless technology and Ethernet bus systems are used to make the pump systems ready for Industry 4.0. In this way, smart pumps can perform specific functions and optionally also co-monitor other parameters.

When Application Knowledge Meets Passion
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Digital business concepts for customers in the fields of industry, water management and building services engineering are realized via the company’s own cloud-based monitoring and control platform Isolutions. The result is a set of solutions that are fully integrated in the communication system and can be connected to any control and communication system or to a cloud solution. The deep transparency and therefore the high availability of the system combined with improved productivity are clear advantages. Safety concerns and environmental aspects also play a role — anyone who has a clear overview of process parameters is in a position to avoid and mitigate faults.

Fit For the Future

Partly also as a consequence of climate change, the United Nations regards the ability to supply clean and safe water as the central challenge of the 21st century. Not only the water management sector, but civil society also expects the industry to come up with new concepts to solve these issues. For a manufacturer like Grundfos, this means that the company needs to be able to do more than “just pumps.” Industrial ecology and global business ethics are what is needed.

In order to align the company with global business ethics, Grundfos also understands that it has an obligation to help meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations. Since 2002 Grundfos has supported the UN Global Compact initiative — a strategic initiative for companies who commit to aligning their business activities with certain principles. The company is focusing particularly on goal no. 6 (clean water and sanitation) and goal no. 13 (climate protection action). In both cases, Grundfos is convinced that it can make a real contribution with smart pump and water solutions.

But CEO Nipper also emphasized that this commitment to the SDGs is not just philanthropy, but a real, lived business philosophy: “Sustainability is our business!” But the company is also fully aware of the economic potential of the SDG goals. The challenge is to develop solutions for this that are scalable and can be used for other applications as well.

How does the number 1 in the world of pumps plan to stay fit for the future? What does fluidics have to do with sustainability, and is “water as a service” the next thing? We put these questions to Grundfos CEO Mads Nipper.

Grundfos is aiming to reduce both its own CO2 emissions and the company’s water consumption by half by the year 2025 (based on figures for 2008). By 2030 Grundfos is planning to be “climate positive,” and in addition the company will be helping to provide 300 million people in need with safe drinking water. The goal is to have saved 50 billion cubic meters of fresh water by then through a combination of water efficiency and water treatment measures.

This year Grundfos celebrates its 75th anniversary — and it can also show off an impressive track record of success:

  • in the field of building services engineering, the company is a full-service provider of heating, air conditioning and ventilation solutions as well as water supply systems, pressure increase equipment, fire extinguishing systems, drainage and wastewater transport. As the global market leader for heating circulation pumps, Grundfos plays a major role in shaping the development of self-regulating and therefore energy-saving heating pumps.
  • in the business field “Water Utility,” employees deal not only with energy-efficient water extraction, water processing and water distribution, but also with the transport of wastewater and the treatment of wastewater in sewage treatment plants with the aid of robust pumps, stirring units and flow accelerators.
  • Grundfos supplies specialist pumps to many different branches of industry for a wide range of processes and supply tasks.

One of the main foundations on which the future of the company is built is its ownership structure: 84.9 % of the shares of Grundfos Holding AG belong to the Poul-Due-Jensen Foundation, 12.1 % to the founding family and 3.0 % to the employees. This gives the company long-lasting stability and protection against being taken over e.g. by an external company or by investors. And, on the other hand, it also ensures that the bulk of profits is reinvested back into the company. Between 4-5 % of the entire group revenue is spent every year on research and development projects, which over the last 75 years has always provided Grundfos with the competitive edge that innovation offers.

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