Boyle's Law for gasses states: It is the principle that, for relatively low pressures, the absolute pressure of an ideal gas kept at constant temperature varies inversely with the volume of the gas. In down-home language this means if a ten cubic foot volume of atmospheric air is squeezed into a one cubic foot container, pressure increases ten times. (10 X 14.7 psia = 147 psia.) Notice that pressure is stated as psia.

Normally, pressure gauges read in psi (with no additional letter). Commonly called gauge pressure, psi disregards the earth's atmospheric pressure of 14.7 psia, because it has no effect either negative or positive on a fluid power circuit. The a on the end of psia stands for absolute, and would be shown on a gauge with a pointer that never goes to zero unless it is measuring vacuum. Another type of gauge that shows both negative and positive pressures would have a pointer with an inches-of-mercury (in. Hg) scale below zero and a psig scale above zero. Both of these gauges could read pressure or vacuum. (They are always found in a refrigeration repairperson's tool kit. Refrigeration units have both vacuum and pressure in different sections of the system at the same time.) Figure 1-5 pictures a typical psig gauge and one type of psia gauge.

In the example above, when ten cubic feet of air was squeezed into a one cubic-foot space, both pressures were given in psia. To see what gauge pressure (psig) would be, subtract one atmosphere from the 147-psia reading. (147 psia 14.7 psia = 132.3 psig.) To calculate the amount of compression of air in a system, always use absolute pressure, or psia, not psig. For example: the cylinder in Figure 1-6 contains eight cubic feet of air at 70 psig. To what will pressure increase when an external force pushes the piston back until the space behind the piston is two cubic foot? It is obvious the pressure will rise four times. At first it might look easy to take 70 psig X 4 = 280 psig, but this answer is wrong. For the correct answer, gauge pressure must be changed to absolute pressure. In this case by adding one atmosphere to the 70-psig reading. (70 psig + 14.7 psia = 84.7 psia.) Now multiply the 84.7-psia pressure by 4 to see what the absolute pressure is when the cylinder stops at one cubic foot volume. (84.7 X 4 = 338.8 psia.) Finally, to return to gauge pressure, subtract one atmosphere from the absolute pressure. (338.8 psia 14.7 psia = 324.1 psig.) Notice that the correct pressure is 44.1 psig higher than when gauge pressure is the multiplier.

Temperature was not considered in both preceding cases, but notice that the law says kept at constant temperature. Compressing a gas always increases its temperature because the heat in the larger volume is now packed into a smaller space. The next law says that increasing temperature increases pressure if the gas cannot expand. This means the pressures given are measured after the gas temperature returns to what it was originally.

Gauges today read in psi and bar. Bar is a metric or SI unit for pressure and is equal to approximately the barometer reading or one atmosphere. One atmosphere is actually 14.696 psi but the SI unit for bar is 14.5 psi.

Charles' Law

Heating a gas or liquid causes it to expand. Continuing to heat a liquid will result in it changing to the gaseous state and perhaps spontaneous combustion. If the gas or liquid cannot expand because it is confined, pressure in the contained area increases. This is stated in Charles' Law as: The volume of a fixed mass of gas varies directly with absolute temperature, provided the pressure remains constant. Because fluid power systems have some areas in which fluid is trapped, it is possible that heating this confined fluid could result in part damage or an explosion. If a circuit must operate in a hot atmosphere, provide over pressure protection such as a relief valve or a heat- or pressure-sensitive rupture device. Never heat or weld on any fluid power components without proper preparation of the unit.