Pundits have been predicting the demise of fluid power for decades, and yet the industry still prospers. Here are seven reasons fluid-power systems will be even better 10 years from now.
Digital decade. Top on the list has to be the marrying of hydraulics and pneumatics with digital electronics—as one expert terms it, the electronification of fluid power. It’s certainly not new, but the trend is accelerating unabated. As just one example, valves with embedded electronics and built-in sensors will provide unprecedented controllability and feedback, like independently metering flow to actuators and adapting to changing load conditions. They’ll be teamed with the latest controllers and sophisticated software to ensure not only exacting precision, but capabilities like auto-tuning and remote diagnostics.
Predicting the future. Unexpected downtime is the bane of industrial production lines and mobile vehicles. We’ve already seen the development of “smart” components like hydraulic hoses that warn of impending failure. The trend will continue with everything from pumps and filters to even hydraulic fluids and pneumatic seals. Life-prediction maintenance programs will minimize costly failures or money wasted replacing perfectly good parts.
IoT. The digital era is more than just embedding sensors into components and connecting them to a machine controller. The Internet of Things holds the promise of fully networked, adaptive production. IoT-enabled components will communicate with each other and with cloud-based enterprise management systems for analytics, diagnostics, equipment-effectiveness reporting and many other tasks. Such units might configure themselves, independently meet varying production requirements and make adjustments while a machine is running, increasing flexibility and overall productivity. A number of fluid-power sensors, actuators and other devices already have the capability, and more are on the way.
Energy recovery. Harnessing energy that is normally wasted will sizably increase the efficiency and economics of fluid-power systems. Manufacturers are just scratching the surface with products like exhaust-gas recovery and reuse in air cylinders and multi-pressure digital accumulators for hybrid vehicles that can cut operating costs by a third.
Non-traditional actuators. Virtually all fluid-power actuators provide linear or rotary motion. Researchers have developed, flexible pneumatic actuators called Fiber Reinforced Elastomeric Enclosures (FREEs) that permit controlled force and motion beyond pure extension and contraction, including angular translation, axial rotation and cork-screw motion. Lightweight FREEs lend themselves to use in patient mobility-assist devices and in robots that can reach, grip and twist—and are safe for human contact.
Power density. Greater power density usually connotes smaller components running at higher pressures. Now, researchers are looking to craft MEMS-type control valves using piezoelectric actuators. This technology may decrease the power required to drive valves by three orders of magnitude and yield ultra-fast operation. Extremely low power consumption makes them especially attractive for human-scale, battery-powered and portable applications.
Nanoscale manufacturing. Researchers formulating hydraulic fluids are moving beyond traditional laboratory methods and examining fluids and additives on a molecular scale. The goal is to simulate and, eventually, create fluids that reduce friction, enhance efficiency, tolerate abuse and are environmentally friendly. Similar techniques might be used to build better seals and hose.
Filed Under: Fluid Power World Magazine Articles