If you could use a robotic helper to install a sheet of drywall, would you? What about using a hydraulic-powered suit to simultaneously lift very heavy loads and reduce back problems? If you could automate your hydraulic equipment to react to pressure dips and spikes accordingly, would you invest in this change of technology?
With all the leaps and bonds in artificial intelligence (AI) advancement, robotics, 3D printing and more, the fluid power industry is changing rapidly. Here we've compiled a list of the 5 emerging technologies we're personally excited to follow as they develop and improve the fluid power industry.
Rise of The Construction Bots
While the construction industry is used to constant change and new technologies, few things could potentially be more impactful than robotics. More and more companies are adding these robotic team members everyday. While some may fear that machines may replace human workers, it is far from the truth. The current state of robotics in construction consists of machines that help make the worker's job easier in addition to helping decrease work injuries.
One of the companies at the forefront of this developing technology, aptly named Construction Robotics, currently offers 2 main lines of construction robots that both have very unique and useful abilities: SAM100 and MULE 135. SAM is short for Semi-Automated Mason, and is essentially a brick laying robot. The robot is designed to increase masons' productivity by 3-5 times while reducing lifting load by 80%. The MULE on the other hand, short for Material Unit Lift Enhancer, is a lift-assistant device designed for handling and placing material weighing up to 135 lbs on a construction site. This can make lifting a cinder block as light as a feather!
Overseas, construction robots have already made a huge impact along with robotics in general for all other industries. In, China, the largest property firm in, Country Garden Holdings Co. Ltd., plans to invest 16 billion CNY each year for the next five years in robotics alone. In addition to construction, this investment will also cover agriculture advancements and even restaurant robotics. The company even recently opened the first fully robotic staffed restaurant at the beginning of the year. Our favorite is the dessert bot!
Need Another Excavator For The Job? Just 3D Print It!
3D printing, while not necessarily a "new" technology, has rapidly advanced to being far more versatile over the course of a few short years. However, despite its versatility and more widespread adoption, its application in the fluid power industry has still been limited to producing components that are not directly affected by high degrees of pressure and temperature. Regardless, there are some companies which believe in the future of 3D printing within this industry and are looking to change this.
Back in 2017. The world's first 3D printed excavator (Project AME) was unveiled at the Tech Experience at CONEXPO-CON?AGG and IFPE 2017 in Las Vegas. This was a joint collaboration between Oak Ridge National....and other industry leaders*(see the end of article for all companies involved). The 3 main components there were 3D printed were the cab, stick, and heat exchanger. While of course not every component could be 3D printed, the speed pf manufacturing increased dramatically! The cab alone only took a mere 5 hours to print! All in all, the excavator was printed with a mix of carbon fiber, aluminum, low-cost steel and ABS.
Another great example is Aidro Hydraulics, based in Varese, Italy. They specialize in additive manufacturing, and 3D printing. Currently, they offer a large range of 3D printed fluid power parts including hydraulic manifolds designed for high-pressure. 3D printing a hydraulic manifold can decrease weight up to 75% as well as provide optimized ports and channels that cannot traditionally be manufactured. With the way the technology is exponentially evolving, it won't be long before we see more and more companies adding additive manufacturing and 3D printing to their manufacturing processes.
Wait, Who's Driving That?
Being a construction worker is tough work. While the actual work is as tough as you can get, having to travel from one location to another and going weeks to months without seeing family can be tougher. Imagine though being able to operate your machinery remotely in the convenience of one jobsite, or even your own home.
While we may be some time away from this, remote and autonomous control may change the future of the industry as we know it. Last month, Caterpillar announced that it was expanding its line of remote and semi-autonomous machines. Users can control the equipment remotely from miles away or within line-of-sight to the Cat Command System. With their compaction line of equipment, this system is even capable of programming the exact boundaries of the area to be compacted.
In addition to construction, agriculture is developing in a similar way. From contactless tractors, to autonomous weeders and sprayers, the farming industry is changing rapidly too. Thanks to the many start-ups across the world, there are hundreds of different innovations that are shaping a new way to think about agriculture. One particular company, Smartcore, has developed a smart-soil tester robot that is fully programmable, but designed to provide data that is nearly impossible to retrieve with traditional means such as covering up to 800 acres per day! While farms consist of vast spreads of land to maintain, autonomous control can make managing and running them easier than ever before.
How Smart is Your Fluid Power System?
These days, it seems every technology is becoming "smart" in some way, which is equally applicable to the fluid power industry, giving rise to endless opportunities...Imagine being able to have a system that can immediately tell you a drop in pressure, or spike in temperature, without any of the complicated installing of conventional means. Smart sensors are designed to be installed within minutes and start offering "smart feedback" almost immediately.
One company that has really led the way for this is Sick AG, a sensor intelligence company based out of Germany. Currently Stick AG offers a line of magnetic cylinder sensors that can be installed within minutes and provide feedback on flow, temperature, pressure, position, and level. This gives the user more precise condition monitoring, more efficient energy management and insights on preventative and predictive maintenance. As the technology continues to evolve, the possibilities evolve as well.
Another new technology that we are seeing emerge is smart sealing. While analyzing the machine are important, a lot of problems generally boil down to the seal itself. So what if the seal itself could send important feedback such as leaks and damage. Having this type of information directly from the seal itself is a major leap in technology and efficiency. One of the companies on this forefront is Freudenberg, another company out of Germany, operating since 1849. Freudenberg are currently developing a smart seal technology that allows the user to see the level of wear and for the information to be tied to system data all in real time. In its pure, raw form, most seal materials cannot process information so the challenge has been creating special material mixtures that allows for this type of feedback. An example of this is by magnetic materials inside the mixture that can help interpret the data from the seal itself rather than embedding a chip sensor that can cause complications for the seal's main task at hand. As the demand for this technology continues to grow, more and more companies will start to re-imagine the way that a complete fluid power system can operate and we will continue to see more and more unique variations of this technology.
Become a Superhero With The Hydraulic Exoskeleton!
Ok, not really a superhero, but still far more powerful. Imagine being on a job site, your back already sore from the previous day's work and hours of manually intensive work ahead of you. With the possibility of these exoskeletons, you can equip yourself with a mobile, lightweight bionic device offering increased strength and endurance, while reducing force and torque on problematic areas in the body.
One exact model that specifically focuses on the back ins the BackX from Esko Bionics. This device can help reduce force on the lower back by an average if 60%. From the same company, there is even a light weight shoulder enhancing bionic set that reduce force and risk shoulder injuries. This is great for overhead tasks such as painting, welding, panel and ceiling work, drilling, inspection and more.
The company, Sarcos, has taken it one step further and has manufactured a full body exoskeleton that looks like something straight out of a sci-fi movie - the Guardian XO. This robotic suit can enhance the operator's strength by a factor of up to 20x (max load 200 lbs). The Guardian XO is also battery powered which means mobility is not a limitation. Sarcos themselves are involved in a wide range of applications with this technology, including military, aviation, construction, warehouse/industrial and more. WIth more industries adopting this technology, it won't be long before we find almost all labor intensive jobs using these suits as a standard. Or at least we hope!
So Much More Ahead
We have looked at quite a bit of different innovations and technologies that are just now coming into the industry but we are just scratching the surface of what's ahead. The realm of robotics alone is an entirely separate article for another day. Each day the industry is evolving and it is exciting to be right at the beginning with all these new technologies. Ultimately, it is safe to say the fluid power industry may look very different in the next 10 years.
Let us know what technologies you are most excited about. We would love to hear all the amazing innovations that our readers are interested in. Head on over to our social media and let us know.
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