Now renowned for rapid leaps in technology, industrial hydraulic engineering is rather a gradual progression that overcomes problems and incorporates evolving technologies as they arise. However, every challenge needs a champion and at the forefront of the product development process is a company that excels in delivering innovation.
Jim Cairney, Engineering Manager at Oilgear (UK), examines the processes involved in developing new products to meet the latest expectations.
Hydraulic engineering is a mature sector of industry, having been gradually developed over many years. The basic principles are well established, but those involved in designing and manufacturing hydraulic equipment are continuously looking to address new problems and integrate more advanced materials and technologies.
The process of product development is based on previous experience and applying new materials, technologies or theories to an existing product in order to solve a particular problem. This process normally revolves around a change in fluid characteristics, pressures or temperatures, but also applies to a product being re-appropriated for a new application.
Technical innovation starts with the challenge – a client looking for something that will improve reliability or productivity, even a whole new concept in hydraulic performance. For nearly one hundred years Oilgear has been at the forefront of hydraulic engineering expertise and this has led to breakthroughs in hydraulic control in some of the most hostile environments such as subsea oil and gas, aviation and mining.
Creating hydraulic pumps for the subsea market, which demands reliability on a par with the aerospace industry, requires a new design approach; especially when dealing with water-based fluids that offer very little in terms of natural lubrication. Minimising the number of moving parts and using hard-on-hard technology, Oilgear uses proprietary technology to deliver some of the most durable hydraulic components on the market.
It is only possible for the boundaries of oil exploration and aerospace to be pushed back if engineering design can continue to create solutions that resolve existing issues. Today, working with non-flammable liquids and water-based, environmentally friendly liquids, improves the safety of many processes, but it raises several challenges for the durability of the equipment.
Taking up those challenges and delivering solutions requires not only design expertise but also considerable investment in facilities that enable the development and testing of new solutions. Ultimately, the durability of a design is proven over an extended period of use in the field, but advanced computer modelling and extensive testing can go a long way to verifying the reliability of a new concept.
In-house testing of a new design may require additional rigs to be designed in order to accommodate the new design features or specifications. A good example is the recent addition to the Oilgear test facility that is designed to test pumps using different fluids, especially lower viscosity fluids. The test rig effectively has two purposes: test existing products to assess their suitability for use with fluids other than the most basic mineral based oils, and to test new product designs to ensure they meet the required specifications.
Continued investment in manufacturing and testing facilities enables a great deal of the development to be completed in-house and also affords considerable confidence prior to any independent assessment. In many cases, bodies such as DNV GL, Lloyds and API may also need to be involved depending on the application. However, it is important to recognise that these standards lay down the minimum requirements for a design – products that greatly exceed these benchmarks are given no additional credit.
Oilgear has a long and distinguished history of innovation and has become well known for its world class reliability with the development of hydraulic control products for the most challenging environments. Achieving these accolades has required dedication to engineering excellence and a belief that the combined experience and expertise of the product development team can deliver a solution to every challenge.