Shifting to a smarter technology brings in many advantages. Shandar Alam elaborates on smart hydraulics and its advantages in the current industry scenario.
Technology is evolving faster than ever. As the hydraulics industry adapts to ever-changing product and machine design, we as an industry continue to develop new ideas and bring better ways to be more productive and more efficient products and systems to market. Much as electronics have become more commonplace in automobiles, the use of electronics to control operation of pumps, valves, and other hydraulic components has introduced numerous potential benefits. Electro hydraulic (EH) integration offers increased efficiency, enhanced diagnostics, improved maintenance, and solid return on investment for those incorporating the latest technology.
The combination of electronics and hydraulic systems may have initially created visions of a mysterious "black box" for traditional users, but the numerous benefits of EH integration have erased the doubts of many skeptics. Improved reliability of hydraulic systems; along with more flexibility, efficiency, and diagnostic capabilities, has helped EH integration become a way of life, rather than a futuristic concept. As electronics have become more advanced and miniaturised, machines have become increasingly controlled by some form of electronic controller. Acceptance of EH integration has grown to the point where it is now commonplace, rather than novelty. The EH solutions are bringing on the table the benefits of mechanical muscle with an electronics brain, helping to deliver high reliability, and guarantee specified uptimes. At the same time, these solutions are quick, efficient, accurate, compact, safe, repetitive and user-friendly.
Presently, the industry is moving to smarter machines, end-users are demanding better performance from their equipment, and users/operators are looking for ways to increase productivity and efficiency without impacting the bottom line. Shifting to a smarter technology brings in many advantages.
As more and more industrial operations are attempting to integrate systems throughout plants, allowing multiple pieces of machinery to be networked together is a primary benefit of using smarter equipment. As a whole, this type of integration interconnects the plant, enabling machinery on one side of the facility to connect and communicate with machinery from across the plant, and empowering operators to monitor the system as a whole. More and more facilities are turning to Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled components to provide this level of connectivity.
Individual system performance
The performance of individual systems is an important factor when upgrading to smarter components. As operators improve plant effectiveness, each system or sub-system within its environment can improve overall productivity and efficiency in a number of different ways. For example, if components within one system are smarter, the system can recognise commands. Then, that system knows the most effective way to power up, command an actuator, or perform other functions. As each system becomes smarter and more efficient, operating with the least amount of energy necessary, overall efficiency is improved.
Enhanced product life cycle
A smart system with smart components is capable of maximising its life cycle. As systems have become more complex, end-users have invested a lot into their plant and machinery. Owners expect a return on their investment through improved efficiency, productivity and enhanced uptime capabilities. With the ability of smarter machines to detect issues before downtime occurs, systems can operate longer and end-users can get as much out of their investment as possible.
Faster, smarter service
With smarter equipment, machine operators can better monitor when a component needs service. In performance auto systems, drivers want smarter components, so they don't have to perform unnecessary service, and hydraulics machinery is no different. With smarter industrial components, systems can notify an operator when service is needed, creating an opportunity for savings across each component within a system. If a machine operator can avoid changing out oil when it is not required, the system can live longer on that particular fluid, instantly generating maintenance savings. If an operator is aware of the condition of a machine's filters and only has to replace them when needed, instead of when estimated, that generates additional maintenance savings. When everything from checking the fluid levels to filter performance to settings on a machine can be done with less maintenance, end-users will more quickly see their return on investment.
In order to stay ahead of major system service appointments, proactive maintenance helps operators specifically identify what needs addressing within a machine or system. For example, if a sensor can identify when a hose needs replacing, a smart system can notify the end-user weeks ahead of potential failure, allowing operators to schedule maintenance only when it is required. This provides two benefits. First, the operator can minimise downtime because maintenance can be scheduled at a convenient time before a failure can occur. Second, the operator avoids the challenge of trying to identify what needs replacing. Preemptively knowing that there is a performance issue, and knowing what parts will be required, allows the operator to arrange the necessary parts and service quickly before downtime becomes a real threat.
In the past, customers relied on an in-house hydraulic expert at the plant to address machinery performance issues. The hydraulic expert would examine gauges, fluid conditions and other components, and then address the likely performance concerns to resolve the issue. Today, most plants don't have the luxury of having an in-house hydraulic expert available, and the increased complexity of systems has made troubleshooting much more challenging, even with an in-house expert on the team. Smarter components can help identify specific performance issues, helping operators fine tune their systems for optimum productivity and efficiency.
Building smart solutions
Components serve as the building blocks to create systems that have more and more intelligent features, thus developing smarter machines. At Eaton, we have been working with customers for years to build smarter machines. One example of how Eaton helps partners create smarter machines is with our LifeSense® hydraulic hose condition monitoring system. Eaton uses innovative sensor technology to automatically measure and manage conditions. A few years back, Eaton also introduced the CMA Advanced Mobile Valve with Independent Metering, the most advanced valve in the market, which offers manufacturers nearly endless possibilities to differentiate machine capabilities. Eaton also launched AxisPro™ Proportional Valves that are built on the proven KB Servo Proportional Valve technology. This next generation valves provides multiple levels of performance to meet the demands of a wide range of applications. Its four-way solenoid operated proportional valves offer high dynamic performance which enables them to be used in closed-loop applications previously only possible using conventional servo valves.
Shandar Alam is Managing Director for Eaton's Vehicle and Hydraulics businesses in India.