It’s a new year, which is as good a time as any to take a new look at how hydraulic systems work. Essentially, the science that formalizes the principle revolves around incompressible fluids. The water or oil contained in a mechanism is, therefore, classed as a power transmission medium. Picture the closed system filled with a fluidic material, one that won’t compress when a prime mover generates an irresistible force. Where’s that energy going if it’s not soaking into the liquid?
The answer to the opening question is simple enough, for we’ve already touched upon the solution in the opening paragraph. The machine, crane or gear pump, for example, transmits mechanical energy through the fluid. Then, as stated by Pascal’s Law, proportional power arrives instantaneously at every other point within the restricted system. That’s simply a basic but incontrovertible example of the founding laws of hydraulic theory, but how does it all work in practice?
Ghost in the Machine
When isolated from its system, hydraulic oil is harmless stuff. It’s when the fluid is placed inside a sealed system that it realizes its potential. It’s still dormant for the moment, but the roar of a starting diesel engine dismisses this latent state. The engine uses a reservoir full of fluid to multiply the force stored in the liquidy stuff until a simple controlling action is capable of triggering a much larger reaction elsewhere in the machinery. That’s one of the key benefits of hydraulics, the notion that a small input action will propagate as a proportionally greater output reaction.
Multiplying Operator Might
A light-fingered tug of a control lever is all it takes to swing a crane boom or raise a weighty load. The power locked within a fluid-driven mechanical assembly takes over at this point. A ram or actuating mechanism experiences the full potency of the power as it is transmitted instantly from the prime mover. Actuators click open with binary precision or slide proportionally as a positional aid. A whole range of cylinders and rams use the strength multiplying energy stored within the hydraulic liquid to move oversized mechanical limbs, all so that large-scale parts can be effortlessly moved as desired by an operator or an automated circuit.
How do hydraulic systems work? They combine the circuit branching intelligence of an electronics layout with the force multiplying ability of a gearing system to deliver finitely controllable mechanical power. Only, instead of transistors and gears, it’s pure fluid energy that makes the systems drive our most powerful machinery.
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