Hydraulic System Projects

Written by daniel r. mueller
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Hydraulic System Projects
The industrial engineering behind hydraulic machines can be easily demonstrated in the classroom. (Hydraulic pipes from an industrial vehicle image by JCVStock from Fotolia.com)

Hydraulic systems projects are a terrific way to introduce students to mechanical engineering. The fundamental principle on which hydraulics work is that water cannot be compressed; therefore it is perfect for transmitting force. Water is ideal for uncomplicated demonstrations, however in industrial applications, specialised hydraulic fluid is more often used. Hydraulic projects give older students a sizeable challenge. Younger students can learn from observing the basic experiments.

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Basic Hydraulics

The goal of the basic project is to impart a base level understanding of the principles behind hydraulics. A superb introductory project is setting up a basic demonstration, showing how a gravity powered hydraulic lever can move a small object. The project only needs a few basic items: a large funnel to act as an elevated reservoir, a small plastic hose and a plastic bag with a thin membrane such as a typical shopping bag. Use some tape to seal the hose to the bag. A styrofoam plate is one of the best items to use for the lifting demonstration, because of its low weight and relative stability. Assemble all the parts, then place the plate on the on the bag. Pour water into the funnel while holding it as high as possible. The water pressure should cause bag to expand lifting the plate and demonstrating the concept.

Intermediate Hydraulics

A fine example of a basic project teaching hydraulic principles is the construction of a hydraulic braking device. In order to build a break there will need to be a few simple pistons in action. The simplest way to construct a piston is by using a pair syringes without needles. Attach the syringe to a small length of plastic hose and seal it with tape or glue. Fill the device with water and attach another syringe to the other end, creating a rudimentary hydraulic piston system. Allow students to construct models that transfer the force of one syringe to a small brake. The brake pad which can simply be an eraser glued to the end of the other syringe plunger. Students will also need to set up a positioning apparatus, however this should not prove particularly difficult. A perfectly completed classroom sized project of this nature will have the student pressing one plunger into the syringe, and the other syringe plunger applying brake pressure to a spinning model wheel.

Advanced Hydraulics

Expanding upon the basic principles of hydraulics demonstrated in other experiments students can be directed to construct a mini-crane. The crane will make use of several of the ordinary pistons outlined in the intermediate hydraulics projects. Since a crane has a number of moving joints, students will need to construct several hydraulic pistons and control them independently to achieve the desired effect. Giving students team challenges such as moving candies from one dish, to another can add a memorable competitive aspect to a lesson. A basic hydraulic crane will have an arm with at least four actuated points, in addition to two more moving points to rotate the base. Adding a counterweight opposite to the arm will significantly improve stability.

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