Why Is the Fluid in a Hydraulic Machine a Liquid Rather Than a Gas?

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Fluid power circuits come in two broad types -- pneumatic systems and hydraulic systems. Pneumatic systems use pressurized gas, hydraulic systems use liquid hydraulic fluid.

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  • Hydraulic systems by definition (hydra being the root phrase meaning 'water') use liquid in their operations. It does not make sense to ask why a hydraulic system uses liquid instead of gas. It does, however, make sense to ask why one would prefer a hydraulic system over a pneumatic system.

Hydraulic Systems

  • Using liquid instead of gas to operate power circuits has advantages. In particular, these systems operate at a higher pressure and are thus capable of generating more force using smaller actuators. A hydraulic system is more efficient in this sense.

Pneumatic Systems

  • One advantage of pneumatic systems is that they have greatly reduced noise levels. It may also be preferable to use a pneumatic system in cold temperatures, as gases can generally withstand sub-zero temperatures better than liquids.

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