What good is a dead horse if you ain’t beatin’ it? My regular readers know how important I think understanding the properties of physics are important to understanding the properties of hydraulics. It is important because, contrary to what some believe, hydraulics is not immune to the infallible laws of nature. What works for a mote of dust also works for a drop of oil.
Although I am not a professor by any means, I do my share of instruction in seminars and in learning sessions with my customers. Hydraulic end-users, such as the maintenance personnel at manufacturing plants, have limited theoretical instruction since their focus is with hands-on repair. Because of this, I find it easy to tell which “students” understand my material, with silent, knowing nods. Conversely, the blank, uneasy look I get from others is a sure sign the material is beyond the ten seconds of retained learning from the forty hours of classroom education they received.
It makes no sense for a lead hand to have a degree in classical mechanics, but I strongly believe any technician will benefit from a casual interest in the general topic of physics. If you are a technician, the fact you’re reading this right now means your career is important to you and you care about expanding your fluid power boundaries.
Here are some subjects I recommend further study is justified:
Newtonian Mechanics: For who is arguably the most influential scientist to ever have considered the ways of the universe, Sir Isaac Newton. Newtonian mechanics involves mostly the mechanical movement of matter. Guess what? Air and hydraulic fluid are made of matter. For that “matter,” every part of the machine a technician works on is made from matter. Newtonian mechanics (sometimes called Classical Mechanics) applies to hydraulic fluid and the actuators they affect. Contrary to popular belief, it is force that moves hydraulic cylinders and motors, not flow, and this understanding arms technicians with the knowledge to better troubleshoot failures.
Laws of Thermodynamics: The Laws of Thermodynamics are brilliant in their simple explanations of heat and its relation to work and energy. With an understanding of the laws, it’s easy to understand the big picture of a machine state, either to increase efficiency or diagnose a failure, to use a couple examples. A practical example is how energy changes forms, and in doing so, inefficiencies normally result in heat generation. So if a hydraulic pump is producing more heat than usual, it is a sign of a decrease in efficiency, which is symptom of wear.
Mathematics: It may be debatable if math is a field of science or the other way around, but I feel it’s important to have at least a solid high-school level knowledge of math to really enjoy physics. This isn’t so you can calculate the entropy of a black hole, but rather so that everything you know is tied together with an understanding of numbers, allowing you to easily deduce what makes sense at just a moment’s glance. For example, if you can calculate the pressure required to increase mass capable of being moved on a hydraulic cylinder, you can tell you production supervisor it ain’t gonna happen because there isn’t enough input horsepower to satisfy the new requirement. (Using F=PA and HP=(PSIxGPM)/1714 equations).