Showing Grace Under Extreme Pressure
CO-AX Valves, Inc.
CO-AX Valves, Inc. (CVI) has come through the COVID crisis in a strong position, with new markets, new products, and new ways of doing business. The Bristol, Pennsylvania-based subsidiary of German parent company müller co-ax gmbh designs and manufactures valves for a wide array of customers. Its valves are used in industrial settings to control vacuums, liquids, gaseous substances, and gelatinous materials.
Previously profiled in December 2020 in Manufacturing in Focus, the company is on an upwards trajectory. “Since 2020, the most drastic change at co-ax®, and one most businesses had to adapt to in the last two years, would have to be the COVID-19 pandemic. co-ax valves inc. was fortunate to overcome the pandemic better than most,” states Vice President of Sales and Marketing Ralf Hinz.
Just prior to COVID, the firm went paperless which “made it a lot easier for everybody to work from home and share information,” he says. “CVI sales staff transitioned to working remotely one hundred percent. The ones who were not able to work remotely came into the office but had to maintain safety protocols.”
Adjustments were made in other areas, as co-ax® adapted to new circumstances brought about by COVID. The pandemic actually increased demand for some CVI products, which range from direct-acting coaxial valves to high-pressure valves, lateral valves, externally-controlled coaxial valves, and more.
“When business slowed down in some industries, co-ax® was able to grow in some old and new industries. The demand for oxygen skyrocketed during this time period, and co-ax® was able to provide for this industry,” he says. “Regardless of COVID, the hydrogen market has also grown dramatically. co-ax® was able to find a solution and provide it to this industry. Hydrogen is now one of our fastest-growing markets.”
This spirit of adaptation, matched with innovative product offerings, has been central to the company’s success over the decades. CVI’s flagship product—the coaxial valve—was invented by company founder Gottfried Müller in 1960 to address a growing concern. At the time, higher pressures in machine tool and manufacturing operations were causing valves to fail. To prevent such failures, the coaxial valve is pressure-balanced, meaning the element inside the valve always stays balanced in both the open and closed positions and during any transition between the two, regardless of outside forces.
“At its simplest, the co-ax® valve incorporates two co-linear, cylindrical, longitudinal elements, one inside the other. The larger of the two cylinders is the external housing with inlets and outlets. It’s always stationary. The smaller of the two cylinders is the control element, called the control tube. The control tube forms the flow channel through the valve and moves back and forth longitudinally inside the housing when actuated, toward and away from the valve seat. The external housing and the internal control tube share the same axis,” reads company literature.
In addition to being pressure-balanced, all co-ax® valves are compact and leak-free as, with no external actuator, there is no risk of actuator stem leakage. They are also energy-efficient and have a long cycle life since the internal control tube and external valve housing are positioned parallel to the flow in a co-linear fashion, so they are not hugely affected by pressure and, therefore, do not incur much wear. The valves have air consumption that is less than ten percent of conventional valves. co-ax® valves are custom-designed according to customer specifications.
Parent company müller co-ax gmbh in Forchtenberg, Germany, opened its Bristol-based U.S. subsidiary in 1997. It also maintains regional sales managers for South America, Canada and the United States.
co-ax® valves are used extensively on gas turbines, machine tools, and processing, specifically, plastics, paints, and inks. Serving the North American machine tool sector was one of the key reasons co-ax® launched the Bristol subsidiary, according to Ralf Hinz. The company currently does “a substantial amount of business with high-pressure coolant within the machine tool industry,” he notes.
Aerospace represents another burgeoning market for CVI. Its valves are not used so much on air or spacecraft but on ground-based support equipment.
At present, co-ax®’s best-selling product is, “direct-acting, one-inch solenoid valves with 232 psi working pressure. This valve is commonly used on generators that run on dual fuel. The robust design keeps downtime to a minimum while the superior sealing performance helps maintain safe operations,” he states.
For all its accomplishments, the company refuses to sit on its laurels. It takes pride in its ongoing research and development efforts, and in addition to developing new products, it works hard to improve existing valves.
This April, co-ax® released a “newly designed VMK-H 10, 2/2-way valve with a 3/8 inch orifice, pneumatically operated, with a maximum pressure of 2900 psi. This high-pressure valve was advanced from the well-known VMK 10 series (1450 PSI). Its most distinctive feature is its cylindrical valve body,” Ralf Hinz says.
Designed to “bridge the gap between our high-pressure solenoid and externally-controlled, high-pressure co-axial valves,” the enhanced VMK-H 10 also boasts increased flow rate and lower operating costs.
The firm has ISO 9001:2015 certification, which is “maintained regularly with internal audits, management review meetings, customer satisfaction replies, receiving and final inspection of parts, and final products. We hold our suppliers to high standards by monitoring on-time delivery and quality of parts and product. We also are working to continuously improve the effectiveness of our quality system,” states Ralf Hinz.
co-ax® focus on quality and innovation has earned praise. The company was selected as the world market leader in 2022 in the categories of coaxial valve technology and high-pressure valves by renowned German magazine Wirtschaftswoche (English translation: Economic Week). This marks the second time in a row co-ax® earned this honor, he notes with pride.
Given such high standards, CVI is careful about whom it hires. It wants workers who are organized, enthusiastic team players, with good communication skills and a willingness to continuously expand on co-ax® knowledge. All new employees receive comprehensive training across the entire product line. When possible, new hires are given additional hands-on training in the assembly department of the co-ax® parent company in Germany.
Training is not just about acquiring technical skills, however. The company also encourages staff to think of themselves as part of a team that is focused on positive client interactions.
“Our company culture is driven by customer satisfaction. If the customer is happy, we are happy. We can only succeed if we work together; therefore, teamwork is extremely important. The company sponsors team events, such as golf and baseball games. We are a subsidiary of a German company, and employees are allowed to travel overseas to meet their colleagues in person. We want everybody to feel respected and supported with learning and development opportunities,” Ralf Hinz says.
This outgoing attitude was put to the test during COVID. The pandemic shuttered most in-person trade shows and industry events, so co-ax® had to find new ways to promote itself. The company did more digital advertising and emphasized marketing search engine optimization. It is also building a new, enhanced company website. Thanks to these online efforts, CVI remained in contact with existing customers during the worst of the pandemic and attracted new clients as well, he reports.
COVID has also created a major challenge in the form of supply chain interruptions around the world, with long delays in shipping products, materials, and components. Supply chain woes have also been compounded by ongoing labor shortages, says Ralf Hinz.
These challenges “have caused our lead times to increase. We are proactively managing our supply chain by monitoring quotations, back orders, commit dates, inventory levels, production facilities and logistics networks to identify and communicate issues and explore alternative sources as needed,” he states.
While these difficulties might cause headaches, CVI is confident they can be overcome. After all, “We are known for being extremely adaptable to new challenges,” notes Ralf Hinz.
Indeed, the company has big plans for the future based on continued growth, new markets, and new products, with the co-ax® engineering department “currently working on a design for a valve that can handle hydrogen exceeding 14500 psi,” he says.
CVI is also looking to increase its presence in certain sectors. “Over the last couple of years, co-ax® has ventured deeper into new market segments, such as aerospace and gas processing. Recently, we found some new opportunities in the medical diagnostic equipment market. This is all very exciting, and we will stay on this path. We believe that we will continue to grow in a healthy way and will be able to manifest our position as a market leader,” says Ralf Hinz.