Hydraulics and Industry 4.0 (Part 1)

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Chances and challenges

Industry 4.0 is currently the most frequently discussed topic in system and mechanical engineering and for industrial end users. The horizontal and vertical interconnection requires intelligence which is distributed on several levels – like the one widely used in electric drives – and standardized and open interfaces (as far as possible) for trouble-free information exchange. The hydraulics technology has advanced quickly in the last couple of years and has become state-of-the-art in the meantime! More and more controls are used for decentralized control of hydraulic actuators and an extensively installed sensor technology provides for a higher closed-loop accuracy and diagnostic capability. The development from classic to intelligent, interconnected hydraulics increases the competitiveness of the fluid technology and secures the future of machine and plant construction.

5 assumptions:

  1. Conventional hydraulic will still be used, when electrification or digitalization will not provide an economic advantage.
  2. The trend towards an intelligent, networkable hydraulic is already ongoing and its use is being accelerated strongly.
  3. Intelligent, networkable hydraulics are able to do everything in terms of control technology what electro-mechanical axes can, but they offer additionally the physical advantages of fluid technology such as power density and overload capacity.
  4. With electrification, machine and system manufacturers reduce the expenditures for engineering and hardware for hydraulic components or completely decentralized hydraulic systems.
  5. The use of sensor technology for e.g. pressure, temperature, filling level, fluid condition increases the diagnostic capability and thus the availability of hydraulic systems and reduces the total cost of ownership for the end user.


What is Industry 4.0?

The term Industry 4.0 describes the interconnection of the real machine world with the virtual world of the Internet and the information technology. Humans, machines and IT systems exchange information automatically to manufacture products – within a company and across company borders. Industry 4.0 covers the entire added value: From development incl. simulation via ordering, component supply and the actual production up to the delivery to the customer and after sales service. Since all information is available always and everywhere, it is even possible to manufacture customized products and small series economically in an Industry 4.0 environment. This way, technology supports people more than ever before. Companies which implement Industry 4.0 produce more efficiently and save more resources while saving costs, and at the same time they are able to react to customer requirements – in a nutshell: they have important competitive advantages.

Properties of hydraulics

Hydraulics is highly convertible and has been adapted many times to new basic conditions. It offers a whole range of physical advantages which provide many areas of application for the future. No other technology off ers such a high force density and can be integrated into confi ned spaces due to its decentralized design. Hydraulics is more resistant against impact and overload than any other technology and off ers thus a better total cost of ownership in rugged applications. Industry 4.0 does not remove these physical advantages. On the contrary, it provides further opportunities for a complete, continuous integration of the advantages into the applications. Electro-mechanical drives have caught up over the past years concerning the force density, but they still produce a lot of heat in the working space and require a bigger construction space. Apart from the physical diff erences, almost all control manufacturers consider only controls and electric drives which they often produce themselves. This is why electric drives are often considered as easier to handle and more effi cient. This is not true, as we will show below.

Hydraulics and Industry 4.0

Even in Industry 4.0, not everything within the technically possible will become accepted. Machine manufacturers or end users will ultimately only accept what gives them measurable advantages. The same holds true for hydraulics. Additional electronics pay off for high-response valves, controlled drive axes or speed regulated pump drives. For standard valves, however, the added value is questionable. For digitalization, always consider the cost-benefi t-ratio. This is why the market for classical hydraulic components and modules without specifi c intelligence will remain in the future. There are two basic checks if automation technologies are ready for Industry 4.0: Are corresponding subsystems and components equipped with an own intelligence and do they exchange information within a network via open interfaces? Intelligent, networkable hydraulics don’t completely fulfi ll these two requirements yet, but it is becoming better. So far, the additional expenses for electronics have only paid off it for high-end applications. Due to decreasing costs for electronic components and scale eff ects, the additional costs are reduced signifi cantly so that there are increasingly more application areas and real implementations. The integration of low priced micro-mechanical sensors (MEMS) is a good example in this context. Today, there is a whole range of motion controls and NC controls for hydraulic actuators available. It comprises single-axis controllers without control cabinets where the electronic controls are integrated completely in the valve, up to multiple axis controllers with control cabinets for more complex tasks. In addition, intelligent pump controllers are improving the system performance. These control systems communicate via established field busses or Ethernet protocols with superior systems, and with these open standards it is possible to completely integrate them into Industry 4.0 architectures – this way, intelligent, networkable hydraulics are completely Industry 4.0 ready.

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