Anyone involved in the mobile hydraulics industry in the U.S. is bound to have come across FORCE America. The company from Burnsville, Minnesota, has specialized in systems and components for the mobile on- and off-highway market for over 70 years and boasts reliable, high-precision products and a strong relationship with its customers. It is working closely with Thomas in a spirit of trust to design one of its most important control valves for winter service trucks.
FORCE America is the market leader when it comes to expertise for mobile hydraulics in winter road maintenance equipment. Whether central hydraulic systems, integrated controllers and fluid management solutions, or AVL-/GPS-based fleet management tools are involved, the company is regarded as a technology provider whose products are guaranteed to keep every sand or salt spreader, de-icing truck, and snowplow on the move. And for good reason, as no other manufacturer offers products and support in such high quality.
Reliable control of salt quantities is key
Thomas and FORCE America first came into contact as long ago as 2014, with their first joint project beginning three years later. FORCE America was about to tackle the overhaul of one of its best-selling products: The company supplies over 15,000 valves for spreaders every year, and the task at hand was to make them even better. Specifically, the controls for the salt auger and spinners were to be made even more accurate. This was partly due to the environmental damage caused by gritting salt, with stringent regulations applicable in the U.S., especially in watershed areas. It was also done to save customers money, because precise dosing obviates the need for the proverbial “just one more scoop.”
It soon became clear that the Thomas HP PPRV proportional pressure control valve offered everything that FORCE America was looking for apart from one tiny detail: The large winter maintenance vehicles with snow plow blades that often straddle several lanes – as seen out on the roads of the northern U.S. in winter – generally have a service life of ten to fifteen years. To guarantee backward compatibility, it was important that the tried-and-tested basic design of the old valve controller was not touched in any way. And this component comprises a unit fitted with several valves, an attached pilot valve, and wiring to the integrated electronics running on top – all of this inside a compact, weatherproof stainless-steel housing. However, the wiring from the top required a 90° connector, something that was not available for the HP PPRV at this point.
A joint development project: HP PPRV with 90° connector
Other project partners might have simply thrown in the towel at this point. Not here, however, because FORCE America and Thomas are cut from the same cloth. From their technological sophistication and customer focus through to a corporate philosophy that values people and is committed to long-term collaboration based on trust, the two companies have a lot in common:
“The partnership with FORCE America was so promising and so close that setting up a dedicated development project was justified. My colleagues in Herdorf soon found a solution for creating the 90° connection and worked with the engineers at FORCE America to align our valves perfectly with the customer’s specific requirements.”
“We developed our very own manual override concept – so we needed to run a number of test series with the developers from Thomas in order to make sure that there were no instabilities in the valve control. We tested various versions of the valve and gradually achieved better and better results in collaboration with Thomas. The work we did together was extremely efficient and demonstrated that FORCE America and Thomas are a good fit for each other, not only since we share the same corporate values but also because we were able to be transparent with each other and tackle the challenge in jointly.”
Matthew Loeffler, Vice President Products and Engineering, FORCE America
Much faster assembly
When the right configuration had been identified, FORCE America tested the Thomas valves under real-life conditions and was then able to proceed to series production straight away. An added benefit is that the switch to Thomas has done away with the need for the pilot valve fitted on top, meaning that the new controller can be put together much faster. Loeffler estimates that assembly times have almost halved.
Expectations have also been met in terms of a consistent level of quality for high volumes, where reliability is very much the watchword: Thomas manufactured nearly 25,000 of its valves in Herdorf in 2022 alone. Any faults or failures? None whatsoever. It would also seem that word has now gotten around among FORCE America’s customers, with more and more inquiring about an upgrade for their control box. Could there be a better endorsement of the partnership between Thomas and FORCE America? Hardly. So it is already more or less a given that there will be more projects to come.