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Throughout the history of automotive development hydraulics have played a critical role in the engineering of brakes, steering and gears, as well as suspension. Specialist functions on road going vehicles as well as vehicles designed for non-road use, such as tractors, other agricultural machinery and military vehicles, also use hydraulic power to effect movement of harvesting machinery, aerial ladders and artillery. Hydraulic engineering offers a tested and trusted way of effecting actions with a quick response time and most importantly, it is reliable, efficient, and easier to fix than electrical systems designed to do the same.
Electrical systems are becoming more commonplace in road going vehicles, as the move to all electric or hybrid powered cars starts to take off in the mainstream. Electric actuators are starting to replace their hydraulic equivalent in some systems, especially those from manufacturers who are pro-actively making advances in alternative car design; self-driving cars and fully electric vehicles are pushing electric actuators to the fore of the minds of automotive designers. The appeal to designers is the easy integration of electrical components into an existing electrical system; if most of the controls are electric rather than mechanical it makes sense to extend the same technology as far as possible. Electric actuators are cheaper, easier to control and generally last as well as hydraulic actuators, and it is far easier to work these into the wiring and software system of a vehicle than to install a separate hydraulic system just to run the brakes, or the gearbox.
Advanced braking systems are one of the more important uses of hydraulics in motor vehicles. Hydraulically operated brakes are much more responsive and deploy very quickly compared to electric brakes. Although there is an argument for electric motors being used to achieve regenerative braking in electric and hybrid vehicles, these systems still use hydraulics for the quick action that is required when the brake pedal is pressed. ABS systems also rely heavily on the speed with which hydraulic brakes act; a miniature hydraulic power pack controls the system to deploy the brakes up to sixteen times per second in a skid situation, a speed which cannot be achieved by electric actuators. Mechanical brakes have a strong future in motor vehicles for safety reasons, and this will remain the case until electric actuators can replicate the speed at which a hydraulic system can function.
Gearboxes have been hydraulically operated since the early 1940s, when General Motors introduced the technology to its range. Although they were first developed in the 1920s, it took a while for the new design to be accepted and fitted in the new cars they were producing, but very little has changed since, apart from the introduction of solenoid valves in the early 2000s. Electric systems are now integrated into the control of the gearbox, especially for the twin clutch, but the mechanics at the centre of gearbox function are still hydraulic. This is one of the areas in which electrics will really have to try hard to oust hydraulics, and the only way hydraulics will be replaced here, may be if an engine can be developed where a gearbox is no longer needed.
Motor vehicles have used hydraulic dampers in suspension systems since the humble leaf spring fell out of favour. Even though some modern suspension systems (which allow the driver to adjust the settings for a particular driving style or road type) use electrics to adjust the shock settings, it is still hydraulics that effects the suspension action. Even electric vehicles use hydraulic suspension, as it is the best solution, and despite some manufacturers looking to recover energy from bumps in the road through an electrical suspension system, the complexity of such a system is not worth the small amount of energy that may be recovered, and certainly not at the cost of replacing a very capable suspension solution with something more expensive and difficult to fix.
Power steering used to be a hydraulic aid to assist drivers in steering and parking; right up to the 1990s there were still cars on the road that did not have power steering and anyone who has ever driven one, will attest to the huge difference that power steering makes to the driver. The first power steering systems used hydraulic pumps to provide the driver with extra power, but these have long since been replaced with electric motors. Self-parking cars are already widely available and these would not be possible without electrically operated steering. Power assisted steering is one area where hydraulics has already fallen out of favour and electrics have taken over.
Hydraproducts' miniature and micro hydraulic power packs are ideal for the automotive industry, and are perfectly suited to use in suspension, braking and power steering systems. Although there are some areas of automotive engineering where electrics have taken over, the key areas mentioned above are safe for now. Other areas have seen a better integration of electric and hydraulic systems, with the benefits of each being user harmoniously to affect the best system possible. As new designers emerge into the automotive market and look to shake things up, we may see electrics replacing hydraulics at least in the design and testing stage, but the reliability and relative simplicity of hydraulics means it will always have a place in the automotive industry.
A good question! And one that many hydraulic enthusiasts and experts alike have posed in recent times.
Hydraulic power’s main industry competitor is pneumatics, which uses gas or pressurised air rather than fluid which hydraulic applications use. While pneumatics is a clean system to use in general as it makes use of air, it is limited in its power range compared to hydraulics, which deal with heavy loads in particular, a lot more easily. This gives it the advantage in applications such as commercial vehicle tilting bodies and lifts among others. This is down to the hydraulic oil used being non compressible so a smooth hydraulic action can be achieved whereas air can fluctuate due to differing environmental conditions.
Where safety in concerned, hydraulics come out on top as the fluid used is stored energy and any leaks and other issues can be easily identified whereas with pneumatics, compressed air can cause issues when it builds up and has the potential to cause an explosion.
Talking of leaks, hydraulics has also moved forwards leaps and bounds in terms of tackling leakage with more secure hose locking mechanisms and better safety measures in general. The same is true for motion controllers as modern systems act smoothly and effectively to reduce any system shocks that could potentially occur.
Pressure control is another area that has seen large improvements over the years with loads being controlled more effectively and taking over from relief valves that, while effective in their own right, struggled to deal with pressure spikes which could adversely affect system operation.
So overall, the worries that concerted a number of doubters as to the effectiveness of hydraulic power today are unfounded and it remains a main player in a number of crucial industries and this looks set to continue long into the future.
Hydraulics has been around for a very long time. But are you aware of how far it has actually come? You wouldn’t be alone if you responded with no. It is a very technical subject that can be quite difficult to understand, but in this article we want to tell you the story of hydraulics! We want to share with you who discovered hydraulics, what it was originally used for and how hydraulic power got to where it is today.
So why don’t we start at the beginning! Where does the word hydraulic come from?
The word hydraulic originates from the Greek word ‘Hydros’ which means water. Why water? Well, this is because water was the first liquid to be used in the hydraulic system. Today, hydraulics includes the physical behaviour of all liquids, not just water.
In this article we want to explain the ins and outs of hydraulic powerpacks. A vital piece of equipment that is used with so many machines we see every day.
In a nutshell, hydraulic powerpacks are self contained units that are used instead of a built in power supply for hydraulic machinery. Hydraulic power uses fluid to transmit power from one location to another in order to run a machine. It really is as simple as that.
So what do they look like?
In order to recognise and better understand hydraulic powerpacks, it is a good idea to get to know the key components. Hydraulic powerpacks come in many different shapes and sizes, some are very large and stationary whereas others are much smaller and more compact. In fact, some hydraulic powerpacks are so compact that they can easily be transported in a small van or even an estate car.
The only real way to identify hydraulic powerpacks is through its main components. No matter the size of the unit, all power packs will have the following; a hydraulic reservoir, regulators, a pump, motor, pressure supply lines and relief lines.
What do these components do?
It may be obvious to some but in this post we wanted to explain every component as simply as possible. So here goes.
First up is the hydraulic reservoir which quite simply holds the fluid. Reservoirs will come in different sizes.
Then we have the regulators. Regulators are vital as they control and maintain the amount of pressure that the hydraulic powerpack delivers.
Thirdly we have the pressure supply lines and relief lines. The supply line simply supplies fluid under pressure to the pump and the relief lines relieve pressure between the pump and the valves. The relief lines also control the direction of flow through the system.
Finally we have the pump and a motor. We will begin with the simpler component of the two, the motor. The motor is simply there to power the pump. Easy as that. Now the pump generally performs two actions. Firstly, it operates as a vacuum at the pump inlet and through atmospheric pressure forces fluid from the reservoir into the inlet line and then to the pump. It then delivers the fluid to the pump outlet and pumps it into the hydraulic system. We did warn you that the second part would be slightly more confusing.
So what is the function of hydraulic powerpacks?
Hydraulic powerpacks deliver power through a control valve which in turn runs the machine it is connected to. Hydraulic powerpacks come with a variety of valve connections. This means that you can power a variety of machines by using the appropriate valves.
Hydraulic powerpacks are relied upon by a range of different machines that use hydraulic power to do its work. If a machine is required to carry out heavy or systematic lifting then its likely it would need help from a hydraulic powerpack.
To make it easier for you to understand, we have included a list of trades that regularly rely on our powerpacks. On a building site you will see machines like bulldozers and excavators, which both need hydraulic powerpacks. But, it is not just on building sites that you will find these types of machines. Fishermen and mechanics both need hydraulic powerpacks too. If we did not have them then how would fishermen lift their nets or how would mechanics lift our cars?
When picking a hydraulic powerpack there are a variety of pumps and options to pick from and it is important to pick the right pack to meet your machines needs. It is also important to consider a pack that will help maximise productivity and minimise cost.
Many people will overlook the necessity of hydraulic powerpacks, but they really are vital to ensuring our society runs efficiently.
Do you need to maintain hydraulic powerpacks?
Yes you do and this is hugely important! Hydraulic powerpacks require regular maintenance to ensure they are working properly and safely and to help extend their life. Maintaining hydraulic powerpacks is relatively simple and includes checking the tubing, this can be for any noticeable problems such as dents or cracks. It is also vital to regularly change the hydraulic fluid and look at the reservoir to check for any corrosion or rust.
What hydraulic powerpacks do we provide?
Generally we provide four different types of hydraulic powerpacks. You can pick from a standard powerpack, a mini powerpack, a micro powerpack or a bespoke powerpack.
The standard hydraulic powerpack uses a standard range of modular components and is ideal for the most demanding industrial applications. The mini powerpack is ideal for applications requiring up to 5.5kW. The micro hydraulic powerpacks were originally produced for mobility applications, so are great for when space is limited. Finally, if none of these seem to fit your needs then we offer bespoke hydraulic powerpacks ensuring your application gets the hydraulic powerpack it requires.
Finally, who is the genius behind hydraulic powerpacks?
The man behind hydraulics was Laissez Pascal. A French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher who lived in the mid seventeenth century. Pascal made observations about fluid and pressure which led to Pascal’s law. Pascal's law states that when there is an increase in pressure at any point in a confined fluid, there is an equal increase at every other point in the container. Hydraulic powerpacks have been designed based on Pascal's law of physics, drawing their power from ratios of area and pressure.
So, interested in our Power Packs? Come on over to the main website and see what we can do for your Hydraulic Power Pack Needs .
Hydraulic pumps, one of the more common mechanical applications of hydraulic technology, use fluid to push an arm a set distance forwards and backwards (or up and down). One example is the mechanical arms of a digger or other ground-working machinery. A hydraulic pump is perfect for this use, as the machinery works using the set distances between the components of the arms.
A hydraulic gear motor uses fluid to power movement for a much longer distance (or to put it another way, for an unspecified length of time). The motor works by running fluid through a chamber containing two cogs. One is linked to the drive shaft and transfers the power to the component that needs to move, and the other is idle, existing only to complete the mechanism. The same fluid is pumped through the motor chamber for as long as the power is needed, and it works in a similar fashion to an electric motor, but is much smaller and can be used in places where electricity is not safe or viable to use. It is a natural development of the waterwheel that was commonplace in the UK during the Industrial Revolution, powering cotton mills, woodworking and even bellows for blacksmiths forges.
A hydraulic gear motor is more appropriate than a pump for any piece of machinery that needs continuous power in a simple mechanism; a series of hydraulic pumps, arms and cogs can be used to create continuous power, but the resulting apparatus is bulky and made up of several components, which increases the likelihood of mechanical failure. A hydraulic motor, by comparison, can be very small and portable, meaning it is ideal for any application that is a long distance from traditional power sources and remote areas of the planet where other forms of energy are not viable. They are also reasonably simple in construction, so parts and maintenance are not an issue.
Hydraulic motors are ideal for use underwater and in dangerous places like mines and gas works, where the spark from an electric or petrol motor poses a serious fire risk. They are also good for any task where the motor is operated remotely, as the fluid can be pumped a long distance to the motor using comparatively little power and the only connection needed is piping, compared to more expensive electrical cable for running a remote electric motor. What is the most ingenious application of a hydraulic motor you have ever seen? Let us know in the comments below.
How to read hydraulic circuits
Hydraulics symbols are an essential component of hydraulic circuit diagrams. Knowing some of the basic principles will help understand a wider range of symbols. Explaining the common ISO1219 symbols enables a complete hydraulic system to be followed:
1. Hydraulic Pump
Hydraulic pump produces flow. Oil is pumped from the hydraulic reservoir into the system. The basic symbol for a pump:
A fixed displacement pump is the simplest type and has a fixed output for each revolution of the input shaft. Modifications to this symbol describe the variable displacement pump. The types of control circuits show how the output is varied.
Filters clean oil entering the system, and are used in various places within a system. They protect hydraulic valves and pumps. Suction filters are placed at pump inlets to ensure only clean oil enters the system. Pressure filters can be placed throughout system. Return filters are common and filter oil returning to the reservoir.
3. Pressure Relief Valve
Pressure in a hydraulic system should be limited to control the force any motive devices produce and to ensure the safe/design limits are not exceeded. A pressure relief valve symbol is normally shown as:
A pressure relief valve or PRV passes fluid from an area of higher pressure to a lower pressure (typically the tank). Hydraulic pressure shown by the dotted line acts as a pilot to actuate the PRV by moving the arrow across the box. This happens when the pilot pressure produces an internal force equal to the spring load the valve begins to open and pass flow.
4. Check Valve
This valve is a one way valve that prevents flow in one direction. The addition of a spring ensures the valve will only open when this pressure is exceeded. Dotted pilot lines can be added so that pilot operating pressures can be used to open the valve and allow flow in the reverse direction. Commonly used to hold pressure in a hydraulic cylinder.
5. Hydraulic Reservoir (tank)
Hydraulic systems all have a means of storing hydraulic fluid. This is referred to as the hydraulic reservoir. Hydraulic reservoirs are shown as:
Vented hydraulic reservoirs are common place, but sealed systems can be found ion aerospace and marine applications. The return lines shown indicate the position above or below the oil level.
6. Directional Control Valve
Hydraulic fluid flow is controlled by a directional control valve. Commonly consists of four parts, valve body, spool, actuator, and springs. The spool is moved with respect to the valve body, this opens and closes internal flow galleries to control fluid flow. Various types of actuators provide power to shift the spool and springs are normally used to return the spool when the actuator is de-energised.
Look at the typical three position four way valve:
How to read directional control valve symbols:
a. Each box in the valve symbol represents a possible valve condition. In the three position valve above there are 3 possible conditions controlled by the actuators.
b. Number of ways tells you how many hydraulic connections could be connected to the valve.
c. Actuators always push and never pull the spool.
d. The box furthest away from the actuator is the normal or de-energized position, and is the position where the circuit connections are drawn. In the above valve this is the middle position.
7. Hydraulic Cylinder
Hydraulic cylinder or actuator uses hydraulic power to generate mechanical force. A hydraulic cylinder is shown as:
A double acting cylinder (above) has two ports and is therefore powered in and out. Single acting cylinders have one port and would typically be used for lifting applications.
We hope this gives you a useful introduction to hydraulic circuits. For a full list of hydraulic symbols can be found in ISO1219, or contact www.hydraproducts.co.uk for more help.
Injuries are a relatively common occurrence for people working with hydraulics, especially those working in the maintenance and/or repair of hydraulic equipment. The most serious injury is a pressurised fluid injection, but accidents can also happen with moving parts when the stored energy in the system is not released before inspections and repairs are made. Unfortunately, it is not routine for tags and gauges to be used to denote places where energy is stored. The engineer must study the schematic thoroughly before starting any investigative work, in order to be sure that there is no danger of anything moving while they are working on the machinery.
If pressure gauges were used to show the residual pressure left in moving parts the engineer could utilise the pressure relief valve to release the stored energy and make the hydraulic equipment safe to work on. Relieving pressure stops anything moving of its own accord, which could be dangerous, and also reduces the risk of high pressure hydraulic fluid injection injuries, which can be fatal.
When inspecting for leaks in seals and hoses, it is important that pressure is released before checking but even then, it is not advisable to check with your hands. Instead, perform a visual inspection and look for other signs of leaks, such as fluid on the floor or on parts of machinery that sit underneath the suspected location of the leak.
Hydraulic equipment can be just as dangerous as electrical circuits for those investigating and repairing faults; but electrical work is governed by strict regulations which include the use of lockout tags and labels denoting the location of potentially dangerous components. Hydraulic equipment is not covered by such stringent regulations and as such, it is at the discretion of the designer whether pressure gauges and safety accessories are included in the machinery at the time of building. These items can be retrofitted by the owner, but this is not often done and this means hydraulic engineers must spend a lot of time reading manuals and schematics to understand where the dangers lurk, before being able to safely get on with any repair work.
Just because it isn't legally required, there are no good arguments for overlooking these safety precautions, but several reasons why they should be addressed., such as: reduced downtime on repair and maintenance tasks, a reduction in the potential for workplace injuries and a speedier repair. All effected by removing the need to spend time studying diagrams to pinpoint potential dangers. Employee health and safety is of paramount importance to employers, and this could well be the biggest reason why hydraulic equipment should be fitted with pressure gauges, relief valves and lockout tags, to prevent tampering with settings and to alert engineers to the locations to address first.
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