A solution along hydraulic lines is shown in Figure 1.2. A hydraulic linear actuator suitable for this application is the ram, shown schematically in Figure 1.2a. This consists of a movable piston connected directly to the output shaft. If fluid is pumped into pipe A the piston will move up and the shaft will extend; if fluid is pumped into pipe B, the shaft will retract. Obviously some method of retrieving fluid from the non-pressurised side of the piston must be incorporated.
The maximum force available from the cylinder depends on fluid pressure and cross sectional area of the piston. This is discussed further in a later section but, as an example, a typical hydraulic pressure of 150 bar will lift 150 kg cm -2 of piston area. A load of 2000 kg could thus be lifted by a 4.2cm diameter piston.
A suitable hydraulic system is shown in Figure 1.2b. The system requires a liquid fluid to operate; expensive and messy and, consequently, the piping must act as a closed loop, with fluid transferred from a storage tank to one side of the piston, and returned from the other side of the piston to the tank. Fluid is drawn from the tank by a pump which produces fluid flow at the required 150 bar. Such high pressure pumps, however, cannot operate into a dead-end load as they deliver constant volumes of fluid from input to output ports for each revolution of the pump shaft. With a dead-end load, fluid pressure rises indefinitely, until a pipe or the pump itself fails. Some form of pressure regulation, as shown, is therefore required to spill excess fluid back to the tank.
Cylinder movement is controlled by a three position changeover valve. To extend the cylinder, port A is connected to the pressure line and port B to the tank. To reverse the motion, port B is connected to the pressure line and port A to the tank. In its centre position the valve locks the fluid into the cylinder (thereby holding it in position) and dead-ends the fluid lines (causing all the pump output fluid to return to the tank via the pressure regulator).
There are a few auxiliary points worthy of comment. First, speed control is easily achieved by regulating the volume flow rate to the cylinder (discussed in a later section). Precise control at low speeds is one of the main advantages of hydraulic systems.
Second, travel limits are determined by the cylinder stroke and cylinders, generally, can be allowed to stall at the ends of travel so no overtravel protection is required.
Third, the pump needs to be turned by an external power source; almost certainly an AC induction motor which, in turn, requires a motor starter and overload protection.
Fourth, hydraulic fluid needs to be very clean, hence a filter is needed (shown in Figure 1.2b) to remove dirt particles before the fluid passes from the tank to the pump.
One final point worth mentioning is that leaks of fluid from the system are unsightly, slippery (hence hazardous) and environmentally very undesirable A major failure can be catastrophic.