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Electrohydraulics and the Internet of Things - Part 1 ben lee

Hydraulic engineers and designers have long been facing uncertainty over the future of hydraulic power in an increasingly electrified world.  The replacement of hydraulics with electrical actuators and components in vehicles especially has caused unease over whether hydraulics truly has a place in effecting motion as technology marches forward.  With the introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT), a truly connected network of equipment, household appliances and even lighting or heating systems, hydraulic power seems outdated, and likely to be replaced by electric alternatives as the technology improves unless the new generation of designers embrace the benefits of hydraulic power.



Hydraulics still has many clear advantages over electric power; load bearing capabilities and predictive maintenance are just two of the benefits of using hydraulic power and easier troubleshooting and repair underline the plus points of hydraulic versus electrical power.  It is obvious, however, that for hydraulic power to survive and compete it must integrate seamlessly into electrical circuits so that there is no reason not to choose a hydraulic component over an electrical one, solely on the basis of ease of integration into the rest of the system.  Many hydraulic power packs now, including the ones produced by Hydraproducts, are designed to fit with electrical circuits and to be used with electrical power, translating a small amount of electrical power into a much larger hydraulic force, without any risks of high voltage electrocution or shorting out a circuit under increasing loads.


One of the most understandable facets of the IoT is the unmanned warehouse.  Already in trial by Amazon (using drones) and some Chinese companies (using robots running on a grid matrix), these automated warehouses need minimal human staff, with even deliveries being accepted by robots using RFID tags.  The central processing office can oversee the delivery, but no one needs to physically sign for a consignment as this can all be done through sensors.  Moving new stock to the right location within the warehouse is done through robotics, and the incorporation of electrohydraulic components means even heavy items can be moved and lifted into place on shelves.  Sensors ensure that the location of each item is logged, and this data can be used to create an automated picking list for the same electrohydraulic robots to compile an order.  Electric actuators may be used for warehouses that only deal in lightweight stock, but for car parts warehouses and other stockists of heavy components the extra power that hydraulic components offer is essential for true automation.


If nothing else makes hydraulic components an attractive choice, then the ability to scale up power and force through the intelligent use of hydraulic power certainly does.  Electric alternatives may be getting cheaper and are undoubtedly easier to wire into a circuit than traditional hydraulic units, but the marriage between electric and hydraulic power makes perfect sense for fully capable robots that can cope with lifting and transporting items of all sizes and weights.  The replacement and maintenance involved with fully electric systems is comparable to that of an electrohydraulic system, but it can be much harder to pinpoint the exact cause of a problem without careful study of the wiring schematic and an understanding of the original design.  Hydraulic components, by comparison, are easier to fix for those who were not involved in the design process and given that engineers and maintenance people generally are not involved in the specification of a system, it is intelligent to have a system that can be fixed more easily.


The IoT is not confined to commercial and industrial applications, however, and in part 2 we look at the uses in the smart home.

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