We're Not So Different, You and I

I mentioned in my previous blog how similar hydraulics and electrics are in principle. In this blog, I’ll talk about how even the components are similar.

The simplest valve in hydraulics is the check valve. It allows fluid to flow in one direction, but blocks flow in the opposite direction. I don’t know enough about electronics to know what the simplest device is, but the diode is similar in operation as the check valve. A diode can block electrons from moving in one direction but allow them in the opposing direction. Not only are they similar in operation, but they’re similar symbolically; please have a look at the two symbols in the drawing if you don’t believe me.

A switch is not much motlier than a diode, but it’s still very simple. A switch opens and breaks the path of potential electron flow; any electrical action in its circuit is ceased. When the switch closes, electrons can flow once again, completing the circuit. A hydraulic switch is the directional valve. Just the same as a switch, it opens and closes the path of (fluid, in this case) flow to allow work to take place. The only real difference is that hydraulics calls a “normally flowing” switch “normally open,” and electronics calls a “normally flowing” switch “normally closed.”

Hydraulic motors take hydraulic energy and convert it into mechanical rotary energy. Electric motors take electric energy and convert it into mechanical rotary energy. The analogy here is basic. The only area where hydraulic and electric overlap is foggy is linear actuation. The hydraulic cylinder is the mongoose to the electric’s linear motor or linear actuator. An electric linear actuator typically uses a motor and ballscrew/wormgear combination, and a linear motor uses electro- and permanent-magnets to “slide” back and forth on a magnetic field; very expensive. However, a hydraulic cylinder is nearly 100% efficient at creating massive levels for force in a small package, and at an economical price.

Here are some more examples:

•Voltage regulator – Relief valve/Reducing valve
•Resistor – Flow control valve
•Capacitor – Accumulator
•Transformer – Intensifier
•Wire – Hose

There are many more functional comparisons between electrics and hydraulics, but my list of examples is limited by my knowledge of electronics. Still, you can see how if you’re an electrician, you’re a much better hydraulic specialist than you think you are!

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

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What's Fluid Power Tips?

Tips, advice, and opinion on fluid power related topics for education and entertainment, with a splash of humor for good measure.

Josh Cosford

Josh Cosford is a certified fluid power hydraulic specialist with Cambridge, Ont. office of The Fluid Power House Inc. Contact him at  joshc@fluidpowerhouse.com or call (519)-624-7109.