This article appeared in the November 2021 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
When Steve Orlando, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Exotic Automation, first approached his engineering team and asked whether they could design the World’s Largest Hydraulic Power Unit, the response was simple and definite: “Hell yeah, we can!”
The New Hudson-based maker of fluid power systems is one of many manufacturers in Michigan that thrives on innovation and advancing technology, however, the scale of this project was daunting even for them. The numbers behind the World’s Largest Hydraulic Power Unit are staggering: 4,800 horsepower, maximum flow of 2,700 gallons per minute, 1.9 miles of hydraulic tubing and a capacity of 11,000 gallons of hydraulic oil.
So how did a relatively small firm in Michigan get to be in a position to work on what would eventually become a record-breaking piece of power equipment?
It started by asking a few simple questions.
“Our customer was working with a manufacturer in Germany for almost a year in designing this and we were asked to come in and advise on maintenance,” says Orlando. “As we were looking at the design, we started asking questions, ‘Why are you doing it like this?’ and ‘Why are you doing it like that?’”
Over the course of several months in which Exotic became more engaged with the project, this large OEM customer decided to cut out the middleman and go right to the experts which also happened to be in their backyard.
“Eventually, the customer realized that we have the expertise right here in Michigan with our engineers, and our manufacturers, and they asked us, ‘Are you interested in quoting on this?’”
Exotic was, of course, interested in quoting the project. After months of collaborative engineering and developing a design, Exotic won the project and then set to work on creating this monster power unit that is scheduled to run 24/7 for the next 30 years.
There are many points of pride Orlando can take away from the experience and being recognized as the “Coolest Thing Made in Michigan” for 2021 but, maybe at the top of the list, is being able to showcase the company’s engineering capabilities.
“We were working against a global company with tremendous resources,” says Orlando. “And we were able to show that we have the technical resources, the engineering capacity right here in Michigan to compete with a company that is world class and has more experience in this market.”
The award is also very special to the team, he says. To get the job done, the company took two engineers off every other project and spread the work over five to six engineers, service technicians, fabrication teams and between seven to eight sub- suppliers. Orlando fully credits the team for bringing this project to life and putting them on the map for this kind of system.
Being able to keep the economic investment in the state was also important to the customer and to Exotic. Between raw materials, fabrication, quality control and implementation, Orlando estimates they were able to “push down” roughly $10 million worth of commerce into the state economy by using locally sourced suppliers.
Exotic’s World’s Largest Hydraulic Power Unit perfectly exemplifies the “Coolest Thing Made in Michigan” as it involves innovation, advanced technical expertise and, perhaps most importantly, the willingness to take risks. From here, Orlando and Exotic are hoping to leverage the notoriety to continue to grow in this highly specialized market.
“It’s really kind of put us on the map in a whole different arena and we’re hoping to grow and continue to expand into this segment,” he says.