Force, torque, robustness: These physical advantages have always been used as arguments in favor of using hydraulics in a wide range of applications. For decades, hydraulics have amazed us time and time again by pushing the limits of what is technically possible. Below you will find seven examples of how fluid power moves huge masses safely, precisely and, if need be, quietly, how it can be used for space travel, how it works at the bottom of the ocean, how it forms steel with millimeter precision, and how it saves enormous amounts of fuel.
In the mid-1980s, disaster was brewing in the North Sea. The connected platforms of the Norwegian oil and gas field Ekofisk were in danger of disappearing in the sea. An international team of offshore specialists had a bold idea. They fixed 122 hydraulic cylinders to the pillars of the islands and lifted the 40,000-tonne platform up by 6.5 meters. The day was saved and Ekofisk still extracts petroleum and natural gas today.
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MAE Götzen’s biggest straightening units for steel works straighten solid-steel pipes 30 meters long and 80 centimeters thick. A hydraulic pressure of up to 25,000 kN is exerted on the steel during this process. This is equivalent to the power of a hundred jet airliner engines. Despite these enormous forces, the units correct bends with a precision in the range of 0.1 mm.
Gates actuated by hydraulic cylinders control the water in the locks of the expanded Panama Canal. Although the new locks are much larger than the previous ones, they consume less fresh water during a locking operation. Each lock has three water retention basins which recycle 60 percent of the water fed in for future use.
An international team of specialists commissioned a total of 156 hydraulic units on the Atlantic and Pacific coast in 2016, simultaneously in some cases.
Hydraulics also come in useful for space travel, for example as part of NASA’s mission “Juno”, exploring some of the best-kept secrets of Jupiter. The ground stations of NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) maintain constant contact with the space probe. The three 70-meter satellite dishes are strategically positioned around the Earth, receiving data and images and sending commands to Juno. High-performance hydraulic motors facilitate the fine positioning of these dishes.
Exploring and tapping metals, petroleum and natural gas, generating renewable energies, and laying cables for the Internet or for offshore wind parks all require work to be carried out in the depths of the oceans. Such underwater work demands complex high-tech systems. A wide range of electrohydraulic systems come into play here. Standard hydraulic systems originally developed for onshore use can be adapted to withstand the huge pressure and corrosive conditions and work efficiently at different sea depths.
Depending on their size and speed, cargo ships consume between 100 and 350 tonnes of fuel a day. This is equivalent to the consumption of over 30,000 cars along a stretch of 100 kilometers. Together with Bosch, Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. (MES) developed the Turbo Hydraulic System (THS) for large-scale engines. This reduces fuel consumption by up to four percent depending on the engine load, a saving of up to twelve tonnes per day and ship.
Founded in 1776 during the era of Catherine the Great, the Bolschoi has always been a building of superlatives. Today, after being completely refurbished in 2011, it’s the seven big stage platforms that make the greatest impression. Each platform has two levels and is 22 meters long, three meters wide and 10 meters tall with a weight of around 70 tonnes. Hydraulic drives move them up and down jerk-free along a distance of 16 meters at a speed of up to 0.7 meters per second. And the audience doesn’t notice a thing: The hydraulic system is not only extremely quiet, but they also installed it as far away from the audience as possible right at the bottom of the basement.