Engineering is a never-ending problem-solution spiral. That’s honestly one of the things I love about it. Solutions adapt proactively and reactively as the world evolves and technologies and materials advance. There’s always a new challenge, a new regulation, a new crisis, or a shift in human perspective or behavior that prompts change.
I recently interviewed Eileen Collins, retired U.S. Air Force colonel and NASA astronaut and the first woman to pilot and command a space shuttle mission. Hearing her story about problem-solving in space and mission control was beyond inspiring and gave me chills. The types of challenges she faced — and the intense preparation, knowledge retention, critical thinking, and confident decision-making in the face of dire uncertainty — seem superhuman to me. (You can read her story in the October 2023 Engineering Diversity & Inclusion issue of our sibling publication, Design World.)
“Don’t run away from problems,” she said. “Don’t fear problems but see them as a challenge…there’s a solution to everything.”
So true and so relevant to the fluid power industry today.
In another interview, Peter McCurry, managing director of Flowcopter, admitted that many believe hydraulics is a sunset industry — a gracious way of saying it’s going the way of the dodo. But anyone in fluid power knows that’s far from accurate.
For example, Howard Zhang and Rich Nagel of Parker Hannifin recently presented a Fluid Power World webinar on integrated ePumps that help OEMs on their electrification journeys. Nothing beats the high-power density of hydraulics, and we’re a long way off from compact, lightweight batteries that deliver the same. Flowcopter’s McCurry agrees, which is why his team chooses to optimize hydraulic technology for aerial applications. (Learn how Flowcopter uses hydraulics with humanitarian aid delivery in mind.)
As Zhang and Nagel shared in the webinar, Parker Hannifin’s ePumps are hydraulic pumps integrated with high-speed motors that can be tailored to applications and enhance control features with real-time data for diagnostics and predictive maintenance. The design adds knowledge to power so owners and operators get the most bang for their buck.
But this solution exists because we’re facing a huge problem — environmental sustainability. Yet the solution also creates new problems of its own.
For instance, thermal management challenges emerge and are critical to component life cycles. And when you get rid of a diesel engine, the hydraulic pump becomes the noisiest component. Carbon-free policies and local emissions and noise regulations drive integrated system innovations, and the solutions spark a whole new set of design considerations that evolve the system into something completely different.
And here’s the kicker: no single company will revolutionize fluid power solo. Sure, everyone’s racing to get new products to market to get ahead on sustainability-related profits. But as was the theme of SICFP 2023, it will take the entire industry to gain new knowledge, think differently, and move confidently toward uncertainty to solve today’s most pressing problems — problems that will inevitably inspire ingenious solutions that create future challenges.
Some fluid power problems, especially the ones that give it a bad rep, have remained unsolved because it hasn’t been profitable to address them. Now, the pressure’s on, and the world is in a time crunch. But as NASA astronaut Eileen Collins says, “There’s a solution for everything.” And fluid power still has a big role to play.
Filed Under: Fluid Power World Magazine Articles