Hydraulics Pneumatics Principles, Industrial prime movers


Most industrial processes require objects or substances to be moved from one location to another, or a force to be applied to hold, shape or compress a product. Such activities are performed by Prime Movers; the workhorses of manufacturing industries.

In many locations all prime movers are electrical. Rotary motions can be provided by simple motors, and linear motion can be obtained from rotary motion by devices such as screw jacks or rack and pinions. Where a pure force or a short linear stroke is required a solenoid may be used (although there are limits to the force that can be obtained by this means).

Electrical devices are not, however, the only means of providing prime movers. Enclosed fluids (both liquids and gases) can also be used to convey energy from one location to another and, consequently, to produce rotary or linear motion or apply a force. Fluidbased systems using liquids as transmission media are called hydraulic systems (from the Greek words hydra for water and aulos for a pipe; descriptions which imply fluids are water although oils are more commonly used). Gas-based systems are called Pneumatic systems (from the Greek pneumn for wind or breath). The most common gas is simply compressed air. although nitrogen is occasionally used.

The main advantages and disadvantages of pneumatic or hydraulic systems both arise out of the different characteristics of low density compressible gases and (relatively) high density incompressible liquids. A pneumatic system, for example, tends to have a ‘softer’ action than a hydraulic system which can be prone to producing noisy and wear inducing shocks in the piping. A liquid-based hydraulic system, however, can operate at far higher pressures than a pneumatic system and, consequently, can be used to provide very large forces.

To compare the various advantages and disadvantages of electrical pneumatic and hydraulic systems, the following three sections consider how a simple lifting task could be handled by each.

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