Faced with a challenge, Parker Hannifin asked: What would nature do?
Looking to a living, learning lab for solutions.
One of its customers – an Italian cement maker – was having issues with a steel pipe used to transport raw material through the factory. The material was so abrasive, it wore through the pipe in less than two weeks, essentially shutting down production twice a month to repair or replace the fixtures. So it turned to Parker Hannifin with an odd request:
Make us a pipe as flexible as a rubber hose, yet many times stronger than steel.
“The division decided to look into nature to find a solution,” said Peter Buca, Vice President for Innovation and Technology at Parker Hannifin. Buca said they asked, “What’s out there in the world that’s flexible and yet armor-plated?”
The answer was surprising. Turns out there are three natural structures that meet those requirements: worms, fish and snakes. And that was enough to get started.
A stronger, more flexible solution.
Back at that Italian cement factory, snakeskin finally won out. After a few trials, the design team came up with a hose lined with a series of interlocking ceramic hexagrams separated by thin barriers of rubber.
It resulted in a hose that was fully flexible and, in theory, strong enough to survive the abrasive materials a bit longer than steel.
Parker installed a prototype of that hose in the factory six years ago – and that same prototype is still in operation today. “Not only is it still in operation, we actually can’t find any visual signs of wear,” Buca adds.
And that kind of result isn’t missed up at the corporate level.
“When you invest in ideas that result in technologies and innovations that make powerful impacts on humanity, you create a culture that people want to be a part of,” notes Parker Hannifin’s Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, Craig Maxwell.
Following the success of its snakeskin hose, the team at Parker has begun investigating a number of different biomimicry projects, including color-changing technologies that can display the health conditions of high-pressure connections and a water filtration system based on a study of deep diving water spiders.