You may recognize the headline to this page as the theme of the 2006 Winter Olympics. I think a similar theme could've been used for the 5th International Fluid Power Conference, held last month in Aachen, Germany.

I have known of the IFK (as it is known in Europe) for many years. However, four years ago it was presented entirely in English for the first time. That was my first visit to the IFK, and I left with the impression that the University at Aachen is the world's leading research facility in the world for fluid power. That impression was confirmed when I attended again this year.

Papers were grouped into specific categories, with two concurrent sessions. I attended sessions leaning toward pneumatics and industrial hydraulics, whereas a fellow editor attended sessions on mobile hydraulics.

If I'm going to compare the IFK to the Winter Olympics, naturally, it was suggested I come up with gold, silver, and bronze medalists. I heard many interesting presentations, and I must admit that many discussed technology well beyond my limited knowledge in any given area. Still, I did my best to weigh the importance or potential benefits of the topics under discussion. This is what I based my subjective judgement on. (However, because I did not attend any mobile hydraulic sessions, none of my candidates are from that field.)

So without further ado, the bronze medal goes to Julia Leichnitz, an engineer at the Institute of Agricultural Sciences and Fluid Power, Braunschweig University, Germany. Ms. Leichnitz's paper summarized a new method for testing the foaming reaction of (hydraulic) oils. Comparing her dynamic method to the current static method clearly showed how much more meaningful and useful her technique can be.

The silver medal goes to Maxim Reichert, of the Institute for Fluid Power and Controls at Aachen University. Mr. Reichert summarized the development of a piezo-driven pilot stage for hydraulic servovalves. He acknowledged that piezoelectric actuators produce too short a stroke to drive hydraulic valves directly, but using four piezo-driven pilot stages in a servo-valve could substantially increase a valve's frequency response.

And now — the moment we've all been waiting for — the gold medal goes to Rüdiger Neumann, PhD, of Festo AG, in Germany, for his paper on an electropneumatic hybrid drive. To paraphrase (and oversimplify) Dr. Neumann's paper, heat generation poses a serious limitation to the application of electric drives. Electric drives may achieve remarkable performance over a short period, but then they must rest — for a long time. The hybrid drive proposed by Dr. Neumann actually integrates (rather than simply combines) a linear pneumatic drive with a linear electromechanical drive. The result is an actuator that uses pneumatic power for thrust and an electric motor for positioning.

The conference, of course, was not a competition. However, most of us gathered afterward for a reception hosted by the Aachen University's Institute for Fluid Power, Drives, and Controls for food, fellowship, and beer. Hey, maybe it was like the Olympics after all!