Bringing intelligence into fluid power systems

  • 04-May-2015 03:18 EDT
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Built on the proven KB servo proportional valve technology, Eaton’s next-generation AxisPro proportional valve provides multiple levels of performance to meet the demands of a wide range of applications.

In today’s world of hydraulics, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) must determine how to deliver innovative solutions that meet the stringent customer requirements for better efficiency, higher reliability, stronger sustainability, and enhanced safety in a variety of industries, from forestry to farming.

Regulations and standards are among the many factors driving modern high-performance requirements. The next-generation engine emissions standards for both on- and off-highway applications have created a need for effective vehicle-level power management, thus making the integration between engine and hydraulic systems necessary and inevitable. Industry 4.0 drives the Internet of Things (IoT) to be integrated in fluid power components and systems, as well as machines and enterprises, which will create new opportunities throughout the fluid power industry.

The integration of hydraulic components with electronic controls has yielded significant improvement in performance, quality, and efficiency for industrial and mobile equipment. Today, OEMs have greater freedom to customize their products for multiple markets and customer needs. Along with flexibility comes the complexity and proliferation of both hardware and software for efficient machinery. In response to such great challenges, we have to emphasize design principles of modularity, flexibility, and interchangeability to provide customers with scalable machinery that lowers total cost of ownership (TCO) and remains effective for years.

To address these challenges, a number of practices have been undertaken, including model-based software development processes, generalization of software modularity in multiple platforms, simplification of the calibration process, enhanced self-adaptation features in software, and system architecture migrating from centralized to distributed for greater application flexibility. Initiatives like AUTOSAR service virtualize function blocks and separate application layers from infrastructure while also providing a good framework to overcome such barriers through industry-wide collaboration. This will redefine the roles of the component supplier and system integrators in the future, as well as the landscape of vertical integration. `

Technologies impacting fluid power

Innovations like an energy recovery system, which captures brake energy or high load gravity and reuses it in later stages, provide energy-saving opportunities for a wide range of on- and off-highway machinery. Technology capabilities such as power on demand architectures that provide the exact pressure and flow to match load requirements ensure industrial and mobile operations are accurate and efficient.

Secondly, bringing intelligence into fluid power systems is critical. Incorporating sensing technology into hydraulic components enables the availability of pressure, temperature, position, viscosity, and contamination information. The presence of microprocessors, electronics, and software makes it possible to simplify the calibration process, flex system configuration, and enables diagnostics to improve stability, precision, and dynamics by using advanced control algorithms.

Devices are more intelligent than ever before, adapting to establish optimal conditions regardless of changes in the external environment. Plug-and-play is key to allowing fluid power data to be connected together through various communications protocols. IoT and telematics further advance information from devices to the cloud, so end users can access and manage fleets and plants in real time, thus making the most appropriate decisions for repair, maintenance, and service.

Another key to strengthening the foundation of our industry is to develop the most reliable products in the market. Fluid power is reputed for its ruggedness in environments of shock, vibration, dust, water, corrosive chemicals, and other potential hazards; however, there are also some perceptions—like oil leakage and noise—that dispute the reliability of hydraulic equipment. We need to maintain a competitive edge by adopting new material and protective coating options, improving seal and fluid technology, integrating advanced filtration as a part of system solutions, and deploying intelligent condition-based monitoring by leveraging sensing electronics and software. Moreover, we have to keep track of functional safety requirements and other sustainability measures from different regions.

Finally, we have to win the game of power density. Power density has been a key factor separating fluid power from other alternative power transmission methods. Today, the pace of power density gained in fluid power is far less than other competitive technologies. Customers are looking for devices that are lighter and more compact, yet deliver more power—so in addition to advanced materials and seals, we must incorporate new design and manufacturing principles such as additive manufacturing to push the edge of the envelope.

Enhancing sustainability

With an eye on efficiency for end users, the fluid power industry must also work to shrink the carbon footprint of our own operations. Companies like Eaton can make positive contributions to combat climate change while delivering positive results for shareholders and stakeholders alike, including reducing the environmental impact of our products and operations as well as the products of our customers.

Sharing data and best practices through cooperative efforts such as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) are additional ways our business is finding ways to optimize environmental sustainability within our industry.

Eaton has been recognized for sustainability leadership by a variety of respected organizations. Notably, Eaton was ranked a global leader by CDP and named to the Climate Disclosure Leadership Index, receiving a perfect score of 100 – number one among all global industrial companies.

Landscape of future workforce

Another challenge our specialized industry faces is finding qualified engineers trained in hydraulics and pneumatics as it faces a rapidly aging workforce. Attracting interest from young, talented individuals is made more complicated by the (incorrect) perception of fluid power as an old, dirty, noisy, and stagnant industry with little forward movement. There are a few things we need to work on to change the status quo.

•    Continue to accelerate the pace of innovation, and bring in new technologies to the fields. New technologies in electronics, controls, materials, communication, and other areas will revitalize the industry with fresh and exciting opportunities for diverse talent to advance their careers.

•    Change the perception of the industry—fluid power is a power management solution that can solve tough customer problems that other alternative approaches cannot easily do. With technologies becoming quieter, more compact, and more efficient, the industry has huge growth potential to expand its existing applications and enter new markets.

•    Build the fluid power talent pipeline by exposing young people to the fluid power industry and clarify their image of fluid power as a vibrant, high tech field of study. We need to start young by introducing fluid power in STEM education programming; expand and grow fluid power curriculum at the college level; strengthen fluid power research programs at the graduate level; and continue training programs with updated knowledge from professionals.

The industry must embrace its role as a leader in education, supporting initiatives in collaboration with educators, universities, associations, and more. At Eaton, we are very confident we are helping ensure a healthy workforce pipeline in the long term.

Astrid Mozes, Chief Technology Officer, Hydraulics, Eaton, wrote this article for SAE Off-Highway Engineering.

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