How Fluid Power Applies to both Hydraulic and Pneumatic Automation Technology

Blog | March 31st, 2016

Fluid mechanics puts deformable states of matter to work by using liquids and gases to store energy and efficiently transmit that energy throughout a mechanical system as fluid power. Water, for example, is solid when cold, a liquid when melted, and it takes to the air in a gaseous form when heated, thus qualifying the life-sustaining fluid as a prime candidate for energy transmission and conversion. Air, less dense but no less valuable because of its own fluid characteristics, implements similar deformation properties. Of course, an initial source of energy is required before power can be distributed. Produced by either chemical reactions or prime movers, extreme temperatures or pressure differentials provide the power and assign it to dedicated hydraulic and pneumatic automation assemblies.

First Came Steam

Pneumatic automation requires gas, usually air, whereas hydraulic power transmission is reserved for liquids, a denser state of matter that employs water or oil. On rewinding time, fluid power once used steam to drive pistons and push mechanical components, which is why powerful but antiquated steam locomotives and slow moving steam rollers were commonplace in the steam age. A coal burner saturated the water with volatile energy, converted it into steam, and pistons or turbines converted the energy into motion. Now, while steam locomotives may have gone the way of the dinosaur, modern power stations still employ this chain of events to this day. Coal is still the primary energy source, fluid is the saturated energy carrier, and huge turbines take on the role of mechanical impellers.

Hydraulic and Pneumatic Automation Comes of Age

Temperature-derived energy chains are a little like basic electrical circuits, in that there’s an energy source present and a resulting action. Fluid power generation is capable of so much more when we switch to a pressure model and employ either hydrostatic principles or a “pneumatic static” methodology. The engineering circuits derived from these twin fluid domains is far more accessible and controllable. In fact, the control diagrams built from these two force-transmitting sources look a lot like the schematics for an electronic circuit. There’s the source, a compressor that injects the fluid with pressure. The sealed system then transfers the pressure to any point of the system in a split-second, at which point valves and feedback loops direct the power to another valve or a mechanical actuator.

Basically responsible for the same actions, the non-compressible properties of the two states, liquid and gas, determine the functions of hydraulic and pneumatic automation, targeting each energy carrier at heavy or light-to-medium loads.

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