Introduction to Pneumatics and Hydraulics

I participated in FIRST Robotics through all four years of high school, and got exposure to pneumatic systems early on. I became fascinated with that kind of simple control and linear motion, and looked forward to learning more about them in college. Unfortunately, fluid power systems weren’t included in a mechanical engineering education at Olin College, and I had to learn more about pneumatic and hydraulic systems on the job at Boston Dynamics. I soon learned that fluid power systems weren’t really taught anywhere nearby, even though they were extremely powerful systems to have experience in.

I decided to teach an introductory class at Artisan’s Asylum in pneumatic and hydraulic systems, with huge amounts of help from Michael Soroka as a teaching assistant. Over the course of 8 sessions, we explored various aspects of each type of system, including power plant design, valve selection, actuator selection, circuit design, how to control motion, and joint design. Every class had some sort of hands-on or design component (including disassembly of pneumatic and hydraulic parts, assembly of functional systems, and several circuit design exercises), and students left the class having designed both pneumatic and hydraulic circuits from scratch.

The class went over very well. By the end of the hydraulics class, students were designing their own power units from scratch, creating full circuit diagrams and Bills of Materials and assembling a final power unit from scratch. The one main restriction of the class seemed to be price; I tried to keep the ticket price below $400 per person, but that didn’t allow for very complex kits or parts that students could take home. In the future, I want to work with sponsors to see if kits can be provided to students at relatively low cost.