In October, Plumbing & Mechanical interviewed Grundfos Executive Vice President Søren O. Sørensen at the company’s corporate headquarters in Bjerringbro, Denmark. Sørensen oversees the pump manufacturer’s North American operations, which are based in Olathe, Kan. He discussed issues facing the U.S. construction market and trends in pump technology.
PM: How important is the United States to Grundfos’ worldwide strategy?
SS: Our annual U.S. sales are $500 million. This is 15% of Grundfos today. We experienced a drop in sales in 2009, but in 2010 we grew at a 12% rate. We’re pretty happy about that. We’ll grow 10 to 12% in 2011. We’re seeing this level of growth in most segments of our business: building services, industrial, utility and submersible pumps.
PM: How do economic conditions in the U.S. compare with other markets?
SS: I was shocked about the debate in Congress on the federal government’s debt ceiling. It put an unnecessary uncertainty in the market that we could have lived without. Commercial building investment is lacking at the moment, and we see that staying flat with a little more head wind than tail wind from a macroeconomic viewpoint. New construction overall is difficult, but we are seeing building renovations and energy modernization projects. We need to upgrade the infrastructure in the U.S. We need to look at the sewer systems, heating and cooling systems and technical installations.
PM: What’s the role of green buildings in the U.S. market?
SS: We must have more understanding on a governmental level and an enterprise level to provide all businesses with a common sustainability agenda. This is not about being sustainable as a naive impression; it is a business driver. If you are caught flat-footed on green, your business will suffer.
Businesses will continue to see new technology related to renewable energy such as solar and wind turbine. This is a fantastic opportunity. The whole discussion of climate will be a success when we talk about it as a growth machine. Installers will sell more of this new technology and help solve their customers’ problems.
PM: What trends do you foresee in pump technology?
SS: Efficiency and system optimization. We are developing new hydraulic efficiency, new motor efficiency and we are combining efficiencies. Our Blueflux is a good example of the new technology where what’s important is on the inside with a motor and an integrated frequency converter that can achieve higher levels of efficiency.
The other trend we’re seeing for the whole industry is system integration. We’re seeing more plug-and-play or plug-and-pump systems that are assembled or set at the factory rather than in the field.
PM: What factors determine whether Grundfos introduces a product to the U.S. market?
SS: Market needs are a driving force. Expectations are different in the U.S. than they are in Europe. It took us some time to have a new attitude in the U.S. toward sales, marketing and R&D. The American market figures into the configuration of the final product much more today than 10 years ago when we would bring in a product configured for Europe. Products developed in Europe are done so now with strong involvement from the American guys, and that’s getting more and more to be the case.
PM: What can U.S. contractors expect to see from Grundfos in 2012?
SS: A full line of circulators. We’ll have more Alpha circulators available as well as new sewage and wastewater pumps. We’ll have more mid-range products.
PM: If you had one message to give to U.S. contractors, what would it be?
SS: Strive for the highest standard. We simply must be more fanatical about the efficiency of our systems. Instead of installing the cheapest product possible, let’s elevate the industry in general. Look at the lifetime value of the products you’re selling and what they can do for your customers. The higher the standards are, the more competitive Grundfos would be because we push high standards and high efficiency.