How Hydraulic Pumps Work. In the earliest civilizations, people used water power for irrigation, food processing, and drinking. The term ‘hydraulic lift’ is often used interchangeably with the term ‘hydraulic pumping.’ Hydraulic lifts are typically found in parking garages as a means of transporting automobiles between floors. Unlike hydraulic pumping that generates mechanical energy, hydraulic lifts use mechanical energy to move something through a fluid medium (gas or liquid). Although both devices use fluid pressure to operate, they work quite differently:
- A hydraulic pump uses an electric motor and transmission to turn rotational kinetic energy (from the wheels) into mechanical force, compressing fluid inside a cylinder. Such a process creates potential energy – like lifting an object by hand with a small force but significantly more power exerted.
- A hydraulic lift uses fluid’s potential energy at a high elevation to do work, like moving an automobile upwards. Hydraulic lifts operate much like a hand pump for bicycle tires, except they use water instead of air. The same rotational kinetic energy used to turn the motor in a hydraulic pump is now used to move something against gravity (like lifting an object by hand, with much less power exerted).
Applications How Hydraulic Pumps Work
Hydraulic pumps are typically found on farms, where they’re used as power sources for irrigation pumps and other farm equipment that requires mechanical force. Like the hydraulic lift, these devices use fluid pressure – just in different ways:
- An irrigation pump uses hydraulic pumps to transport large volumes of water from a low-lying body of water to a higher elevation – this is done by compressing fluid inside a cylinder. The force created in this process works, and the pressure created pulls water along with it – like siphoning gasoline out of a car without using a hose.
Other farm equipment powered by hydraulic pumps uses them in an entirely different fashion:
- Combine harvesters use hydraulic pumps to power moving parts such as wheels, drills, and cutters; these components need rotational kinetic energy supplied through hydraulic pumps.
- Forklifts use hydraulic pumps to raise and lower pallets/cargo into or out of trucks/storage containers.
Misconception about How Hydraulic Pumps Work
There is a major misconception concerning hydraulic pumps and how they work: most people think they use potential energy to create kinetic energy. That is not the case. The only power source used in a hydraulic pump is electricity, which creates a rotational force (kinetic) that compresses fluid inside a cylinder – this process does not create potential energy.
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