You probably don’t think about how often hydraulics are used. Society has been using hydraulics for hundreds of years, with famous scientists like Blaise Pascal, Joseph Bramah, Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei exploring the concept.
Hydraulics is the study of liquids and how liquids function and is more commonly associated with engineering nowadays. To understand hydraulics, imagine one side of a cylinder is filled with liquid. When pressure is exerted against the liquid, the pressure is transferred to the piston, which in turn, lifts up an object. The piston will remain in place, securely holding its position until the operator releases the pressure from the liquid.
The concept came from British mechanic and engineer Joseph Bramah in the late 1700s. He used Pascal’s Law, stating that if fluid pressure is applied to the liquid in a confined space, pressure is transmitted through the liquid in every direction without diminishing.
Earlier hydraulic systems used water pressure, but today there are better options to use as there is better lubrication and additives that make them self-cleaning. Water-based fluids are fire resistant but evaporate at high temperatures and don’t offer much lubrication. Petroleum-based are the most popular choice due to their cost and ability to meet different requirements by adding certain additives.
Synthetic fluids are more expensive but are artificial and contain toxic substances. Synthetics are practical for high-temperature and high-pressure systems usage. This fluid is also good for lubrication and fire resistance.
Hydraulics have become an integral part of many vehicles we operate today, so let’s explore how it’s been used.
Early Use of Hydraulic Cylinders
Car enthusiasts will know that the hydraulic pump is used for car suspension. Hydraulic suspension lifts the car up to absorb vibration, gravitation, and impact forces for a smoother ride.
Ron Aguirre was the first one to implement car suspension in 1955. It created a cult of low-riders in Southern California.
Aguirre invented low-riders by connecting two cylinders to a pipe filled with oil supplied by a pump. Pressure from the cylinders would lift up the car, and the number of pumps determined how high a car could “jump”.
Hydraulics in Today’s Time
When Bramah first experimented with hydraulics, he probably had no idea how it would be used in modern times.
Today, hydraulic cylinders are a necessity in engineering. Heavy machinery like forklifts uses hydraulic cylinders to operate its lift and construction equipment like dump trucks and excavators need it to carry heavy loads of dirt and other materials.
Hydraulic devices are featured in everyday life too. The most common feature we don’t think about is the car. Without it, we would not have hydraulic brakes.
The next time you press on the brake pedal, remember that braking fluid transfers pressure onto the braking pad, which then presses onto the pad and slows the vehicle down.
Hydraulics in the Future
As society continues to push for sustainability, scientists and engineers are developing a way to replace gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles with hydraulic power-train systems hybrids.
Hydraulic hybrids are more fuel and energy-efficient than their electric motor counterpart. Hydraulic systems would cut down the traditional gas-electric motor to three parts: a small diesel motor–powered pump, a hydraulic motor, and an accumulator.
The idea of hydraulic engines is quickly catching on in the automobile industry as the trend is growing in Europe and the United States. Peter Achten, owner, and CEO of Innovation Associates, an engineering company in the Netherlands has seen emerging markets in South America, China, and India as citizens cannot afford the price of replacing regular motor engines.
Achten has noted “The hybrid hydraulic will come to the automobile. It is the only way to have a strong reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions without the cost and weight increase of electric batteries, power converters, motors, and generators.”
Researchers have found several compelling reasons to switch to hybrid hydraulics, especially for larger heavy equipment vehicles, from buses to military and dock-loading equipment. Hybrid hydraulics have proven to store ten times the energy than electric batteries, with quicker energy discharge. They have also discovered that it is 50% more fuel-efficient, and recoup 75% of the energy expended into brakes and back into the accumulator. For more facts and details about hybrid hydraulics, check out this article from American Scientific.
This is big news for hydraulic manufacturers across the world as there will be a large need for hydraulic cylinder repair services in the future.
The invention of hydraulic cylinders has changed how we operate our machinery. Without it, our car brakes would not be as efficient or give us a smooth drive.
The use of fluid pressure in construction equipment has made labor doable, cutting costs for what would require more power and tools to operate heavy machinery.
As technology continues to advance, hydraulics are once again changing how we operate our vehicles. Scientists are looking to create a more sustainable system, one that helps reduce carbon emissions while creating efficiency. Manufacturers and engineers anticipate this eventual shift and as we continue to develop more efficient methods, we’ll have to keep an eye out for these changes.