Everyday Hydraulics (Or Hydraulics 101)
I HAVE BEEN WORKING IN THE HYDRAULIC INDUSTRY FOR 2 YEARS NOW AND HAVE BEEN TRYING TO EDUCATE MYSELF ON JUST HOW HYDRAULICS WORK. IT’S BEEN A BIT DIFFICULT FOR ME TO RELATE TO SOME OF THESE GIANT STRUCTURES WITH THOUSANDS OF PARTS… I’M A GRAPHIC DESIGNER, NOT AN ENGINEER. BUT, I NEED TO KNOW AND UNDERSTAND HOW THEY WORK SO I CAN EFFECTIVELY PROMOTE OUR HYDRAULIC SYSTEMS AND SOLUTIONS.
I decided to do some research to understand the principles on a more basic level, then see if I could translate that knowledge to the big structures being assembled in our manufacturing facility. The first thing I searched for was “Hydraulics for Dummies” to see what I could unearth. What I found out is that “dummies” should not be working with hydraulics at all. So, taking a strictly observational standpoint, hydraulic means operated by a liquid moving in a confined space under pressure. The good folks at HowStuffWorks.com explain the detailed logistics of a hydraulic system better than I ever could but my take-away in plain english is this – you need a pipe/tube filled with fluid with a piston at either end… think syringe. The pressure applied to one piston moves the piston at the other end because the fluid can’t compress or get smaller, it applies force and moves the other piston. That force can be controlled, diverted, split, multiplied and used in amazing ways to power the world… or at least my little part of it.
Outside of the work arena, I am thrilled at the way hydraulic technology has made my life easier.
The toilet: Actually anything that uses the water lines in your house. Hydraulic pressure forces water into the toilet allowing you to flush and refill the bowl. Water towers use hydraulic pumps to deliver water to your house and if you have your own well, guess what, that water pump is hydraulic, too.
Dishwashers: Hydraulic action takes your normal water flow and makes it high-pressured – that combines with detergent to chip away at the baked-on cheese from last night’s lasagne.
Exercise equipment: Hydraulic pistons are used in any number of exercise machines. They deliver a controlled resistance that is more desirable than weight resistance, particularly among more mature users or those suffering from injury or arthritis.
Door closers: Many of you may not even remember a time before the hydraulic door closer… that gadget that closes your screen door smoothly and gently. Before that you had the nostalgic sound of a stretching spring and sharp thwack of the slamming door, and heaven help you if your brother just let it fly in your face.
Elevators: Hydraulic elevators are generally used in buildings 6 floors and under, provide a smooth ride and keep you from plummeting to your death.
Amusement Park Rides: Growing up close enough to Hershey, PA to make day trips to Hersheypark, I can certainly appreciate the thrill and entertainment value in a good roller coaster ride. The scream-induced laryngitis was always worth it!
Hydraulics are all over the automotive world:
Power steering, power brakes: If you’ve ever driven an older car you will appreciate the advantages of power steering and power brakes. I may not reap the physical benefits of über-toned upper arm or calf muscles gained by laboring to parallel park without power steering and brakes, but I much prefer the smooth, snappy response with minimal energy that’s offered by my current SUV.
Shocks: Shock absorbers absorb the bumps and bounces of a back road so you don’t have to.
Gas pumps: The electromechanical and hydraulic system in a modern gas pump is used to to bring gasoline out of the underground storage tanks for your use.
Floor jacks: Given a choice, I would prefer to get a flat tire at home instead of on the road. The hydraulic floor jack in my garage is so much easier than the scissor jack that came with the car. It’s a shame it’s too cumbersome to fit in the hatchback.
Speaking of hatchback, the lift gate of my SUV… pneumatic (I was sure it was hydraulic.) On a larger scale though, the landing gear on airplanes, the lift bed on dump trucks, major parts in cranes, bulldozers, tractors and trains all use hydraulics.
So, for this dummy, I’ve found that hydraulics are the ultimate way to use very little energy to raise a very large load and control its descent. If I hadn’t been drawing pictures in science class, I would probably already know that. Perhaps now I know enough to take the Fluid Power Training Course offered by the skilled engineers here at RG Group, and not be quite as intimidated by their outstanding level of expertise.
If you can think of everyday uses I’ve missed, let me know!