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Steel, rubber and oil - digital?! Industrial hydraulics must pick up the pace on the way to the digital future

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16.08.2018 11:01

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Dr. Steffen Haack, Head of the Industrial Hydraulics Business Unit, Bosch Rexroth AG:

“Industrial hydraulics – today, this largely amounts to standard hydraulics consisting of iron, rubber, oil and, maybe, 24V connection sockets. At the same time, Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things are changing the face of the factory floor: Decentralized intelligence, integrated sensor technology and connectivity have already become key requirements for many industrial applications. Nonetheless, hardware-intensive industrial hydraulics is in a position from which it can smoothly glide into this new digital environment. The requirement: Hydraulic manufacturers must accept the challenge of intensively advancing digitalization.

The first solutions have already been developed. It all begins with just a little effort. Via an IO-Link interface, valves and sensors are already transmitting digital status data. As a result, machine manufacturers and users can now gain some initial experience in such areas as condition monitoring with their existing concepts. In more demanding applications, electrohydraulic solutions in particular are moving to the forefront – and more growth is expected. With standard real-time Ethernet protocols, they are integrating themselves seamlessly into networked environments. This represents an interim step on the way to cross-manufacturer machine-to-machine communications via the OPC UA standard with a real-time add-on TSN. As a result, all machines will exchange information with one another and higher-level systems in the foreseeable future.

But that is hardly everything. In the future, selling hydraulic components as hardware alone will not be enough. As the customer journey becomes increasingly digital, work steps that were once clearly separated will flow together. This means that machine manufacturers and users will also need the data and digital twins of their components. An integrated data base is the key requirement that will enable hydraulics to enter modern engineering, operational and service environments. Topics like digital engineering or predictive maintenance will be able to reach their full potential only if this is the case. 

Digitalization will require manufacturers to work much more intensively together. In Germany, two working groups have already been formed at the Mechanical Engineering Industry Association to study this area. These groups are focusing on data usage and a cross-manufacturer description of hydraulic components’ features. 

Bosch Rexroth will make a critical contribution with digital interfaces, with the transfer of hydraulic functions to software and with digital twins. We intend to digitalize hydraulics more quickly throughout the sector. The time window is much smaller than many believe. For this reason, development resources must be focused on this area right now. Steel and casting will remain. Their networking has already begun and must pick up speed now.”

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