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The relevance of hydraulic engineering to a new generation of designers ben lee

Hydraulics and electric power are competitors in today's engineering market, with advantages and disadvantages to both technologies depending on the use and context.  Electric actuators have replaced hydraulic technology in a number of applications, the most obvious being in the automotive industry where size and weight constraints make the lighter electric actuators more attractive, not to mention the fact that as automotive electrical systems get more complex it is far easier to program and wire electrical components than hydraulic ones.

 

There is still a very real place for hydraulic power, however, and today's new generation of designers and engineers need to understand how hydraulic power works, what the benefits are and how it can be incorporated with electrical systems to produce better systems than ever before.  Of course, a full understanding of hydraulics, its applications and the benefits it can bring is desirable, but the young engineers of today have a lot more to learn about than their counterparts ten or twenty years ago.  The ability to write code, to configure software and to manage electrical circuits is equally important, and the driving factor behind the intelligent design of machinery and equipment, so there is simply not enough time to learn about hydraulics in depth.

 

The most important thing for young engineers to know is when combining electrical circuits with hydraulic power is appropriate.  3D printing is a new technology that is being widely adapted by industries to automate build processes in everything from plasterwork to meat products and even buildings.  If a design engineer is specifying and designing a 3D printer to create small components such as medical implants or home wares then electric actuators will be capable of moving the printer head to the right location as the print medium is lightweight.  If they are designing a 3D printer capable of printing in concrete then hydraulically controlled moving parts will be better as they can handle the weight of the print medium in the printer head, and this is where the knowledge of the capabilities of hydraulic power is most important.

 

In recent years the motion and features of fluid technology in many applications have been modelled digitally, creating a virtual library of data that shows how a hydraulic component moves, what power it needs and how it outputs that power within the machinery.  Using these models’ engineers can see how a hydraulic component will perform compared to the electromechanical alternative, allowing them to choose between the two technologies without having to build a prototype or really understand how the hydraulic component works in depth.

 

Bosch Rexroth are taking this to the next step and have rolled out a program that gives electrohydraulic components the same programming interfaces and software language as their electromechanical ones, thereby making them fully interchangeable without the need for patches, reprogramming or lengthy revisions to code.  This also makes hydraulic solutions just as attractive as electric ones for their design team, allowing them to choose hydraulics over electrics and vice versa depending on what is most appropriate, and not what is easiest to build.

 

Hydraulic power will always have a place in engineering, and with the ability to scale down hydraulic power packs to a small size that can compete with electric alternatives Hydraproducts is offering a realistic alternative to electrical power.




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