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Fluid Power Advantages

Hydraulic and pneumatic systems share many benefits for the machines in which they are installed. These include:

  • high horsepower-to-weight ratio — You could probably hold a 5-hp hydraulic motor in the palm of your hand, but a 5-hp electric motor might weight 40 lb or more.
  • safety in hazardous environments because they are inherently spark-free and can tolerate high temperatures.
  • force or torque can be held constant — this is unique to fluid power transmission
  • high torque at low speed — unlike electric motors, pneumatic and hydraulic motors can produce high torque while operating at low rotational speeds. Some fluid power motors can even maintain torque at zero speed without overheating
  • pressurized fluids can be transmitted over long distances and through complex machine configurations with only a small loss in power
  • multi-functional control — a single hydraulic pump or air compressor can provide power to many cylinders, motors, or other actuators
  • elimination of complicated mechanical trains of gears, chains, belts, cams, and linkages
  • motion can be almost instantly reversed

Hydraulic and pneumatic systems are both widely used in stationary (industrial) and off-highway (mobile) equipment. Hydraulic systems are widely used when heavy force or torque is involved, such as lifting loads weighing several tons, crushing or pressing strong materials like rock and solid metal, and digging, lifting, and moving large amounts of earth. And although pneumatics is capable of transmitting high force and torque, it is more widely used for fast-moving, repetitive applications, such as pick-and-place operations, gripping, and repetitive gripping or stamping. In both cases, electronic controls and sensors have been implemented into fluid power systems for the last few decades. These electronics make hydraulic and pneumatic systems faster, more precise and efficient, more reliable, and allow them to be tied into statistical process control and other factory and mobile equipment control networks.

Hydraulic applications

Off-highway equipment is probably the most common application of hydraulics. Whether it’s construction, mining, agriculture, waste reduction, or utility equipment, hydraulics provides the power and control to tackle the task at hand and often to provide motive power to move equipment from place to place — especially when track drives are involved. Hydraulics is also widely used in heavy industrial equipment in factories, in marine and offshore equipment for lifting, bending, pressing, cutting, forming, and moving heavy work pieces. Following are case histories housed on websites of industry publications describing the use of hydraulics in a variety of applications:

Red Arrow Bullet imageTraction is King on Grape Harvester 
Red Arrow Bullet imageAccumulators Beat Boom Bounce

Red Arrow Bullet imageSlipform Paver has all the Smarts 
Red Arrow Bullet imageHydraulics Gives Multi-Articulated Excavator Wide Range of Motions

Red Arrow Bullet imageElectrohydraulics Runs Giant Elephant 
Red Arrow Bullet imageSpider-Man Musical Relies on the Power of Hydraulics to Control and Lift Stages and Platforms
Red Arrow Bullet imageThrills are tops, thanks to hydraulics

Marine & Offshore:
Red Arrow Bullet imageCrab Boat Catches Huge Fuel Savings 
Red Arrow Bullet imageWave Energy Presents New Challenges

Waste & Recycling:
Red Arrow Bullet imageHydraulics Make Refuse Truck Quick, Quiet, and Efficient
Red Arrow Bullet imageCompact Motors Keep Sweepers Simple 

Other industries where hydraulics is advantageous:

  • Energy
  • Machine Tools
  • Metal Forming
  • Military & Aerospace
  • Mining
  • Utility Equipment

red arrow bulletAdditional Hydraulic Applications

red arrow bulletMore Hydraulic Case Studies

red arrow bulletPrinciples of Hydraulics Online Training

Pneumatic applications

Factory automation is the largest sector for pneumatics technology, which is widely used for manipulating products in manufacturing, processing, and packaging operations. Pneumatics is also widely used in medical and food processing equipment. Pneumatics is typically thought of as pick-and-place technology, where pneumatic components work in concert to perform the same repetitive operation thousands of times per day. But pneumatics is much more. Because compressed air can have a cushioning effect, it is often called on to provide a gentler touch than what hydraulics or electromechanical drives can usually provide. In many applications, pneumatics is used more for its ability to provide controlled pressing or squeezing as it is for fast and repetitive motion. Moreover, electronic controls can give pneumatic systems positioning accuracy comparable to that of hydraulic and electromechanical technologies.

Pneumatics is also widely used in chemical plants and refineries to actuate large valves. It’s used on mobile equipment for transmitting power where hydraulics or electromechanical drives are less practical or not as convenient and in on-highway trucking for various vehicle functions. And of course, vacuum is used for lifting and moving work pieces and products. In fact, combining multiple vacuum cups into a single assembly allows lifting large and heavy objects. Following are case histories housed on websites of industry publications describing the use of pneumatics in a variety of applications:

Food & Beverage:
Red Arrow Bullet imagePneumatics Ensures Food Processing Reliability
Red Arrow Bullet imagePneumatics Moves Hard-to-handle Foods

Entertainment & Amusement Parks:
Red Arrow Bullet imageTheme park innovations rely on pneumatics
Red Arrow Bullet imageTerminator 2 3D: Pneumatics Inspires Awe Behind the Scenes
Red Arrow Bullet imagePneumatic actuators add to E.T. excitement
Red Arrow Bullet imagePneumatics: The Force Behind Virtual Reality
Red Arrow Bullet imageBionic Kangaroo Brought to Life by Pneumatics

Other industries where pneumatics is advantageous:

  • Factory Automation
  • Material Handling 
  • Medical
  • Off- and On-highway Vehicle Systems
  • Packaging

red arrow bulletAdditional Pneumatic Applications

red arrow bulletMore Pneumatic Case Studies

red arrow bulletFundamentals of Pneumatics Online Training

Cost Reduction through Pneumatics Automation
    Through the use of case studies and illustrations, this guide explains how pneumatics automation could
    reduce manufacturing costs with a minimum of investment and complexity.


Fluid Power Components

Fluid power systems consist of multiple components that work together or in sequence to perform some action or work. People well versed in fluid power circuit and system design may purchase individual components and assemble them into a fluid power systems themselves. However, many fluid power systems are designed by distributors, consultants, and other fluid power professionals who may provide the system in whole or in part.

 The major components of any fluid power system include:

  • a pumping device — a hydraulic pump or air compressor to provide fluid power to the system
  • fluid conductors — tubing, hoses, fittings, manifolds and other components that distribute pressurized fluid throughout the system
  • valves — devices that control fluid flow, pressure, starting, stopping and direction
  • actuators — cylinders, motors, rotary actuators, grippers, vacuum cups and other components that perform the end function of the fluid power system.
  • support components — filters, heat exchangers, manifolds, hydraulic reservoirs, pneumatic mufflers, and other components that enable the fluid power system to operate more effectively.

Electronic sensors and switches are also incorporated into many of today’s fluid power systems to provide a means for electronic controls to monitor operation of components. Diagnostic instruments are also used for measuring pressure, temperature and flow in assessing the condition of the system and for troubleshooting.


NFPA Member and Product Directory

    where you can find NFPA member companies along with a summary of their products and services,
    and where you can find hydraulic and pneumatic products available from NFPA member companies.

Additional Education and Training Sessions offered by NFPA and its members can be found at
   Learning Resources.