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Hydraulics – Design is Key

Project Engineer James Pendle at Prior Power Solutions talks about some of the changes and challenges in hydraulics.

How is hydraulics developing?

Whilst the fundamentals of hydraulics have not evolved particularly, the systems around it have. Electrical integration is becoming the norm, allowing for greater levels of control and monitoring.

HPU for crane at Rother Research Station, Antarctica.

Engines are developing all the time to be more fuel efficient with cleaner technology, however in higher level ATEX environments, these engines cannot be used, which is where electric motor drives come in. Variable frequency drive technology is rapidly advancing to better match the speed and torque capabilities of a diesel engine.

More environmentally friendly fluids, ‘bio‑oils’ or water‑based hydraulic fluids are becoming imperative. Whilst these have been around for a long time, compatibility of seals and clearances was always a big design challenge.

The technology of these bio fluids is becoming more and more advanced to allow a wider range of components to be compatible.

How important is design?

Working with high pressure equipment can be dangerous, so safety always comes first in the design stage.

The biggest cause of failure in hydraulics is poor fluid cleanliness. There are multiple points at which hydraulic fluids can become contaminated. Therefore, putting filtration at the forefront of system design, alongside maintaining fluid operating temperatures to reduce degradation (which can accelerate damage to component internals) is vital.

Whilst elements of good design can be taught, the majority is down to experience. At Prior Power Solutions we can call upon many years of experience and skillsets, coupled with access to global supply chains to ensure our designs tackle ‘in the field’ issues both for operation and maintenance.

What project are you most proud of?

Primarily for its setting, I would have to say designing a hydraulic power unit (HPU) for a new, larger crane as part of the wharf development at Rother Research Station, Antarctica.

Due to its location it needed to operate, it needed to be able to be stored and operated in ‑40oC ambient temperatures. What was especially important to me on this one was

to ensure utmost reliability. With limited deliveries of vital supplies coupled with narrow weather windows, and remote location for getting spare parts or specialist engineers to, this is not a crane you want breaking down.

I don’t know for sure, but I would like to think that my work is helping offload the RRS Sir David Attenborough polar research vessel.

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