Fluid power has come a long way. It began with the end of the hunter-gatherer era, an age when early man used primitive water irrigation networks to feed settlers. Early mining operations also got in on the act by using jets of water to literally carve out mineral claims. Here’s a brief look at some of these early engineering methods.
Water Powered Machines
In a time before hydrocarbons and electricity, water was the ultimate machine power source. Its energy was held in the currents of rivers, then captured by water wheels to mill grain. It was the Romans who were masters of this newly birthed field of hydraulic engineering. They created the aqueducts, public baths, and irrigation systems. Fueled by this agrarian hub, perhaps it was this watery power that allowed Roman imperialism to spread, but that’s a subject for historians, not engineers.
Pre-Industrial Age Hydraulics
Back in the days of the Gold Rush, mining communities used elevated wooden flumes and special ditches to create water channels. At last, pressure was being used as a tool by innovating inventors to build piped fluids so that the jets of water produced by this elaborate setup could unlock the Gold trapped in California’s hillsides. Basically, this was a water cannon, a machine that suggested greater things were on the horizon.
Spurring Technological Leaps
Meanwhile, back in the factory, new developments were abroad. Pascal’s Law created a framework for hydraulic engineering. Gears dominated, but the hydraulic press changed that one-sided mechanical condition so that machines could learn to use sealed fluid systems. Using Pascal’s Law, cranes and hoists, excavators and tractors all took advantage of this historic time of transformation. It was the 1960s, and construction equipment was breaking away from clunky mechanical drives. Instead, hoses, tubes, and remotely located mechanical actuators had taken over their heavy duty lifting and transporting responsibilities.
It’s because of the mid-twentieth century adoption of hydraulic technology that mobile cranes use fluid-based circuit diagrams. These modern cranes use high-pressure pumps and fuel, a layout that echoes the rivers and drive systems of old, to create immense quantities of energy. Transferred to the hydraulic oil, the power is instantly available to actuators, valves, and switching component, all by applying a light touch inside a control cabin. The employment of these finely rendered parts may seem like a modest accomplishment, but, in reality, their development is based on thousands of years of evolution, all the way back to that first waterwheel.
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