Titan Enterprises is a leading international manufacturer and supplier of small-bore liquid flowmeters, building their reputation designing and producing cost-effective reliable flow sensor products. New product development is the lifeblood of any manufacturing company. By investing in research and development and continually pushing the boundaries of technology – and running down a few rabbit holes along the way – Titan maintains its competitive edge in the flowmeter market.
Titans’ focus for R&D is achieving a solution for our OEM customers, driven by flow technology. This can take the form of:
- Product portfolio development: such as identifying where products can be improved as Titan has recently achieved with the launch of the new Pulsite Link pulse & analog converter.
- Breakout R&D: Exploring a new market focus or application such as developing a low-cost ultrasonic flow measuring device utilising our technology.
- Customer / OEM bespoke product development to be incorporated into a customer’s specific application.
Where do ideas come from?
The R&D creative process is generally sparked by a customer who presents a problem that the development team can progress and investigate workable solutions. Development routes can also derive from a ‘Eureka’ moment, a mistake (3Ms post-it notes come to mind) or where we feel the market is going – driven by emerging technology.
Neil Hannay, Senior Development Engineer with Titan Enterprises, explains: “OEM customers come to us with a problem or need and we scope out a bespoke design concept that has the potential to solve this.”
In forming the initial concept designs, close working with the customer to develop specific design parameters and overcoming fundamental difficulties that may be encountered is key from the outset. Understanding what the priority is for the customer is also essential at this early stage as it will influence the development route and technology used within the concept design process. In the simplest terms, is the customer prioritising accuracy over product costs, or looking for a low-cost solution with reliable performance?
Defining a more comprehensive design specification will enable concept models of designs to be composed that meet both Titan’s performance specifications and the customer’s process or system.
Working with a drinks dispenser OEM, the design brief needed to consider:
- Dimensions to fit within the limited physical space available
- Dual fluids – a single unit being able to measure both non-viscous and viscous liquids side by side
- Specific connections to fit existing equipment
- Use of approved (NSF/FDA) food grade materials
- Cost and production window
Prototypes and testing
Once the concept designs are agreed, the next phase is to agree pricing of the tooling and final meter, based on expected production quantities. For Titan, typically our OEM customers invest in the injection moulded tooling which is bespoke for them and they ultimately own this; the design remains within Titan’s intellectual property.
Machined prototypes are put through a rigorous in-house testing process for design and performance before being issued to the OEM to test in-situ. “This allows us to uncover any unexpected issues - or indeed cause unexpected issues!” says Neil. “We often find ourselves doing lots of ‘head scratching’ in the testing phase and it’s where the team’s problem-solving skills come into their own,” Neil continues.
For example, a recent machined prototype unit in test was below its expected performance. Several rounds of rebuilding followed, from gears to body parts, but the performance of the meter was still erratic. Two crucial aspects were discovered:
- The surface finish of the machined body was not good enough for the oval gears to freely rotate so friction lowered performance.
- The softer material of the unit was fractionally distorted when clamped in the calibration rig, causing a minor impedance of the gear rotation which constricted the flow.
The prototype here was reworked using a harder material and polishing the internal surface, resolving the performance issues identified.
In-situ testing and final design
The prototype is sent to the customer to test in situ and verify both the meter’s physical and mechanical performance meets their requirements in all operational situations. Any modifications to dimensions for example, or adjustments to fittings within the system are worked into the final design. This iterative process of finalising design requires close working with OEM customers, including re-evaluating costings and agreeing production volumes.
Titan’s flow meters are typically incorporated into much larger industrial systems where accurate, reliable recording or control are required. Neil concludes: “Investing in R&D is paramount to us staying ahead of the game and taking advantage of the latest technologies, and our R&D spend is more than three times the industry average.” A team that combines suitable training and commercial experience, market awareness, problem solving skills and a creative spark enables Titan to deliver solutions for their customers or inventions for breakthrough markets.