Hydraulic systems are some of the most practical and useful mechanical machines today. They have their uses in a wide variety of applications and industries. These systems can be seen in cranes, vehicles, presses, construction equipment, and jacks.

Hydraulic systems use fluid pressure to supply energy to engines and other mechanical components that provide lift, push or pull motions. Joseph Bramah, who was an English mechanical engineer in the late 1700s, is considered the father of hydraulics. He expounded on Pascal’s laws of fluid dynamics to create a mechanical system that multiplied the input force by hundreds of times at the output. The fluid law states that a change of pressure in a fluid-filled container is felt equally in the fluid and the container’s inner walls.

The best way to demonstrate a hydraulic system is by using a slave and master cylinder setup. In the basic set up, the master cylinder has a much smaller area than the slave cylinder, and they are both filled with an incompressible fluid and linked through a tube. Any force exerted at the master cylinder will be multiplied at the slave cylinder by a factor of the area difference. That means that a minimal force can be used to lift a significantly heavy load.

Parts of the Hydraulic System

There are many different types of hydraulic systems, but they all share the same fundamental principles. The conventional hydraulic system is made up of four main components.

  • Reservoir

The reservoir stores the hydraulic fluid. Although some hydraulic systems used water-based fluids, many use oil-based fluids since oil provides sufficient lubrication and rarely traps air and gas bubbles, which can affect the performance.

  • Pump

The hydraulic pump provides the input mechanical power for the system. There are many different types of hydraulic pumps. Basically, you can have a piston pump, vane pump, or gear pump. Particular designs are preferred for specific applications.

  • Actuators

Actuators convert the hydraulic energy or pressure generated in the system into mechanical motion. Actuators can be hydraulic motors, mechanical arms, or even power generators.

  • Valves

Valves control the fluid flow in the hydraulic system. They can be set up to restrict flow in a particular direction or control the flow rate of the fluid.

Hydraulic systems come in different sizes, shapes, and performance specs. Every design or variant is suited to specific applications and industries. For instance, the hydraulic system in a car’s steering system is not the same as that in a crane. But generally, they all work the same. You’ll have to look up specific builds to learn about them in more detail.