Fluid power drives and controls mechanical motion, providing the components and systems which form the foundation of drive and automation technology. Indeed, there is scarcely a machine or vehicle today which could operate without fluid power.
Hydraulics and pneumatics give machines their speed, power, precision and dynamics. Unlike electrical power transmission engineering, fluid power uses the physical characteristics of water, oil or air to transmit power and output, while the compact design of fluid power components gives them a high power-to-weight ratio.
Hydraulics and pneumatics manufacturers supply the entire mechanical-engineering industry as well as industries such as: construction and agricultural machinery, conveyor systems, food and packaging machinery, oil and gas machinery, woodworking and machine tools, electrical engineering, shipbuilding, mining, aviation, space travel, medical technology, environmental technology and chemicals.
As VDMA1 state, hydraulics and pneumatics are now “an indispensable part of everyday working processes”. Powerful and reliable, they relieve people of heavy and monotonous work and provide support for tasks requiring speed and uniform quality, while also making production processes more efficient.
With global energy resources under increasing strain, fluid power is used in a number of applications with a view to reducing carbon emissions such as: wind power stations to move the rotor blades into the optimum wind position; in conventional power stations for flue gas desulphurisation; in waste disposal and recycling; and in water and sewage treatment. Energy-generating systems such as gas or steam turbines also benefit from the large number of possible applications of fluid technologies.
In the US it is predicted2 that much future fluid power research will focus on its use in off‐highway vehicles and advanced manufacturing, while many opportunities also exist to improve heavy industry tool applications with human scale fluid power systems.
Another area of increasing focus is how fluid power can be combined with electronics to form future-proof automation and drive systems. The boundaries between motion, drive and automation are becoming increasingly blurred and ‘smart’ valves use digital controllers to achieve greater control and efficiency in complex systems.
Another key trend is fluid power systems operating under more extreme conditions such as higher pressures, broader temperature ranges, and in more remote and hostile environments, leading to further innovation across the industry.
1: VDMA – Fluid Power: Motion, drive and automation
2: 2014 Annual Report on the US Fluid Power Industry, National Fluid Power Association
The fluid power and flow products industry can be broken down into specific product groups: