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Small Things Are Big in Fluid Power

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By Rob Spiegel, Senior Editor, Automation & Control

Trends in industrial fluid power reflect the overall direction of industrial electronics. Equipment is getting smaller, smarter, and more efficient. The megatrends in hydraulics and pneumatics include miniaturization, environmental (meaning both clean and ever more efficient), and greater intelligence via electronic controls. These trends extend from the present into the future. As always, fluid power beats electric power in specific industrial functions. The overall market for fluid power continues to grow, although in some regions growth remains slow.

How small can you get?

One of the biggest trends in fluid power is ever smaller size. Miniaturization in many forms plays a good part of fluid power’s future. “Fluid power customers are following industry-wide trends toward miniaturization. Small and lightweight wins over large and heavy,” Mary-Jo Keenan, applications engineer at Beswick, tells Design News. “At the same time that customers are downsizing, they are adding more features to their products. This puts even more pressure on design engineers to find the smallest fluid power components possible.”

While miniaturization continues to become more important, durability is also a strong factor in fluid power. “Smaller in size not only saves valuable space, but it is aesthetically pleasing to the end user,” she tells us. “In addition, customers require durable materials that can withstand extreme pressure and temperature conditions while providing corrosion resistance. Also, we have seen a greater demand for accurate pressure and flow control with high flow capacity in a compact envelope.”

Jerry Walling, marketing and business development director at Fabco-Air, tells us there is continuing pressure to make fluid power equipment smaller. “Our customers want it smaller, cheaper, and faster,” he says.

Growth for fluid power varies by region

Generally, the fluid power market is growing, though recent growth and future expansion in the fluid power market varies by region. Walling sees growth in terms of geography. “We’re seeing growth in the Southeast US because of automotive,” he says. “We’re also seeing growth in the northeast.”