Future State of Fluid Power

In spite of its advantages, fluid power has largely been confined to applications where the required power density precludes other solutions. The likely cause of this is that fluid power has shortcomings that are barriers to more widespread use. These barriers include:

  1. Inefficient components and systems;
  2. Excessive weight and size for portable applications; and
  3. Noise, leakage, contamination and awkward operator interfaces.

Inefficient components and systems waste energy and cause excessive heating of working fluids which decreases their lives. Current bearing technology has energy losses that limit efficiency of pumps, motors and actuators. Current fluid power control relies on the throttling action of metering valves, causing large amounts of energy to be wasted. Excessive weight and bulkiness also lead to increased energy consumption and prevent applications where smaller, untethered or portable devices are required. Despite the high power density of fluid power actuators, pneumatic and hydraulic power units are bulky. The needed compact energy sources and compact energy storages are not available. Noise and vibration are annoying and have adverse effects on human health and machine reliability, and awkward user interfaces require increased training and task completion time, prevent convenient use and compromise safety. Awkward machine interfaces that slow operations also result in increased energy consumption. The most common hydraulic fluids are toxic and benign fluids compromise performance and cause corrosion of components. For this reason, fluid power components must be leak-free to prevent environmental damage. Contamination is another barrier to reliable and trouble-free operation, and new approaches are needed to minimize its impact.

The manufacturing of fluid power components and systems has remained relatively unchanged for decades. It is characterized by small to mid-sized production volumes of components with tight manufacturing tolerances. Batch processing is common for many operations. Long lead times and high inventory counts are commonplace. A final “break-in” test operation is typically performed after final assembly. These practices result in substandard quality and reliability rates and unnecessarily high production costs.

The commercial success of a technology is strongly influenced by its value proposition. When multiple technology options are available for a specific function in an application, such as power transmission in mobile off-road equipment, the technology that most effectively addresses the critical attributes of the function is likely to be selected. An analysis of the state of the art of the four most common power transmission technologies (hydraulic, pneumatic, mechanical and electrical) assessing important attributes of power transmission technologies for each can provide insights into the challenges and opportunities for their widespread adoption. This process was completed for key fluid power markets and applications and some potential future markets and the results are detailed in the following pages.

The desired future state for the fluid power industry is described by the Center’s vision: “make fluid power the technology of choice for power generation, transmission, storage, and motion control”.

The ultimate objective of the Center and the focus of its mission, vision and goals is to transform the fluid power industry. The definition of success in achieving this objective, which is the desired future state, has several aspects. Part of it is ongoing research that leverages fluid power’s inherent strengths and eliminates or substantially reduces key technical barriers, to transfer the discoveries to industry and have industry commercialize them to make transformational changes that will create growth in current markets and expand the use and benefits of fluid power into new, high growth markets and provide benefits to the fluid power industry, its customers and society. A second aspect of the desired future state is the continuation of the pipeline of students trained in fluid power. Some of these students will go into fluid power companies to use their knowledge to create new and better products, some will remain in academia to train the next generation of engineers and some will go into non-fluid power companies where they may bring fluid power’s benefits to other industries. In order to continue this pipeline of students the Center must have a critical mass of researchers (PIs and students) and industry partners to generate the resources required to continue its research, education and intellectual capital transfer on an ongoing basis. Intellectual capital includes assets that a research university can provide to industry such as access to qualified students (graduate and undergraduate) both as university researchers and company employees, as well as access to researchers and research facilities and the potential for licensing and/or creating intellectual property. A third aspect is advancing the manufacturing methods used to produce fluid power components and systems.

The desired future state is a Center that has a proven record of delivering these aspects of success and has implemented a strategy that makes it self-sustaining. We believe that CCEFP’s sustainability plan provides a strategy that will bring about the desired future state and ensure that the Center continues to bring transformational changes to the fluid power industry for years to come.