It doesn’t take much effort to research the basics and see how pneumatic systems are engaged by air while hydraulic power is all about fluid. These two facts are well-established but can still be lost in the shuffle as equipment considerations enter the discussion. If a layperson picks up some device, pneumatic equipment, for example, he won’t know one end of the device from the other. The same principle applies to the opposite end of the debate, to hydraulic equipment.
Both mediums utilize fluid energy characteristics, though air floats as a gas while hydraulic oil is a liquid. Air is more susceptible to compression than hydraulic oil because of these structural differences, which sends the medium down different application paths. For example, pneumatic equipment is built smaller than hydraulic equipment because air moves through smaller channels and tubes without resistance. Conversely, a dense fluid, hydraulic oil, exhibits liquid resistance and can’t help but incur energy losses, loss factors that are offset by building the parts to a larger scale.
It takes a great deal of energy, electrical or otherwise, to compress air. The pump has to compress a near invisible material down to a form that’s potent enough to power actuators. While attainable, energy losses are incurred, losses that leak into the local environment as heat. Volumetric efficiency therefore bows to the hydraulic pump, a device that can cause messy liquid leaks but one that does so while generating beefy energy reserves.
The Hydraulic Hercules
As mentioned earlier, hydraulic components are bigger and denser than comparable air-carrying assemblies. They’re also charged with storing fluid at a higher pressure, a fact that equals sturdier housings and stronger seals. Cranes and mining equipment, heavy industrial equipment and car steering wheels, all of these systems use hydraulic equipment to deliver instantaneous action, control that transforms weak hand motions into heavy load-carrying operations. Even aircraft control surfaces use this hydraulic model, demonstrating the fluid’s ability to store vast reserves of energy and amplify the smallest action as initiated by the operator. The flaps on an aircraft wing, for example, use this stored resource to change the flip of a tiny switch into movement on a gigantic scale.
Air-Powered Process Environments
A switch of perspective takes us to a food production setting. Reduced diameter tubing passes air to smaller actuators to automate equipment. Leakage issues from messy hydraulic parts can’t exist in this setting, and heavy lifting prowess is not needed. Instead, the ability to move a low-profile pneumatic actuator comes into play. The equipment snaps into motion with a solid hiss.
In summation, pneumatic equipment is small, but hydraulic parts, large as they may be, still opt for complex structures and high-quality pistons because they respond to extremely small adjustments.
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