The vision is to transform fluid power so it is compact, efficient and effective. And that vision is clearly reflected in an industry-wide technology road map, developed by leading fluid power companies working together under the NSF-sponsored Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power. The impetus for change? It is in part a threat from electromechanical solutions, but it is as much the myriad opportunities for fluid power technologies to extend beyond traditional applications.
"We are all drawing the same conclusions about the future," says Dave Geiger, Moog Industrial Group's hydraulic systems engineering manager.
Most agree that the movement of electromechanical solutions into higher power ranges will be a slow process. But they also agree that the industry needs to work now to capitalize on the inherent strengths of fluid power technology and extend its reach through technology development.
"Hydraulics offer tremendous power densities. The technology can deliver 10 times the power of an electric system in the same size and space, and three times the power of the most powerful race car engine," says Joe Kovach, vice president, technology and innovation for Parker Hannifin. "The challenge is that it is not as efficient as it needs to be."
Everyone agrees there are huge opportunities for fluid power in the area of energy efficiency. The focus is on developing more efficient components including pumps and motors, high-speed switching valves and high-efficiency hydraulic fluids.
Within the CCEFP, energy efficiency is viewed as a transformational goal, as many believe that the efficiency of some hydraulic systems could be improved by as much as 50 percent. But it is also foundational because advances in efficiency will be enabled by basic improvements in valves, pumps, motors and fluids.
Digital technology also promises to drive many new developments in fluid power, including major innovations in pumps, valves and motors.
"The digital revolution is opening many new doors for fluid power," says Michael Liedhegener, manager of new technologies development for Bosch Rexroth.
One new concept is the integration of several small, fast switching on/off valves and the use of binary combinations to intelligently control flow. Digital valves can also improve performance, efficiency and eliminate leakage.
"Research in America forgot about fluid power, but now it's back," says Mike Gust, the CCEFP's industry liaison and formerly vice president of technology for Eaton.
"There is so much energy that is touched by fluid power, but if you look at the efficiency of an engine and work your way back to the wheels, the efficiency is in single digits," says Gust. "Between the flexibility of fluid power and efficiency initiatives, getting a 25 percent improvement is not that difficult. It's just that fluid power hasn't been researched holistically and looked at under a scientific microscope for a long time."