Fluid power is, quite simply, the use of a liquid or a gas to move a load and accomplish work. The technology is used in countless industrial as well as everyday environments, from automobile assembly lines to passenger airliners and from packaging equipment to huge earth-moving pieces of equipment. Fluid power can be used for extremely tough tasks, such as boring new underground mining tunnels—or for very gentle operations, such as lifting and stacking large sheets of glass. Through various components and actuators, fluid power systems can push, pull, lift, rotate, or grip almost any load.
While fluid power has been around for centuries, its heyday was undoubtedly sparked by the end of World War II, when countless soldiers returning to their home countries brought back their mechanical expertise and real-world experiences. The founding of many famed domestic fluid power component manufacturing companies—many still around today—can be traced to this era. In the years thereafter, some of the associations that have so shaped the industry were begun, most notably the National Fluid Power Association (1953) and the International Fluid Power Society (1960).
Fluid power systems are comprised of a myriad of components, including pumps, cylinders, valves, hose, fittings, gauges, sensors, filters, seals, and reservoirs. Some components are considered absolute necessities, while others are optional and used to refine the system for more precise operation or to increase the lifespan of the system or its individual parts. Throughout this handbook, we will detail many of the more common and widely used components, explaining their operation, their place in the system, and how an engineer should correctly specify them.
While fluid power can be used in most any industry or application, it is commonly seen in markets that include packaging, off-highway, mining, offshore/marine, medical, material handling, construction, aerospace, automation, robotics, and entertainment.
And fluid power is an important technology. A 2012 study by the Department of Energy discovered that between 2.0% and 2.9% of the United States’ energy is transmitted through fluid power equipment. While that is an impressive statistic, the study also found that the efficiency of fluid power averages 22%.
While that percentage is low, it also illustrates how much improvement there is to make. The study concludes that a 5% improvement in efficiency over 5 years is possible by instituting best practices in industry. Or, even better, a 15% improvement over 15 years is possible with a strategic R&D program. Doing this would save the U.S. an amazing $37 billion.
Fluid power is an amazing technology. But it’s clear that understanding it better and designing our systems more efficiently is of critical importance.
Filed Under: Fluid Power Basics, News