Hydraulics enters the digital age
19 March 1999 will be remembered as the day when Senior Research Fellow Matti Linjama first presented his idea of digital hydraulics. Today the technology is used by leading mechanical engineering companies. Linjama’s innovation has also spawned university-industry collaboration that provides employment opportunities for students and graduates.
Digital hydraulics is already widely used in vehicle stability control systems and anti-lock brakes. Metso has also announced that it uses digital hydraulic applications in its paper machines.
Compared with traditional technology, digital hydraulics is more reliable. It takes both performance and efficiency to the next level.
"Digital hydraulics reduces fuel consumption considerably and needs only a fraction of the oil that analogue systems consume. If problems occur, leakages are minor and we’re even working on a completely leak-free system", says Linjama.
Pioneering research takes first steps
As so often happens with innovations, Linjama’s idea of digital hydraulics did not catch on immediately. His opportunity arose a couple of years later when his supervisor, Professor Matti Vilenius, was looking for new research topics.
Having consulted Finnish mechanical engineering companies since the 1970s, Vilenius was instantly taken with the idea and felt certain that it held great promise. However, he knew that after necessary fundamental research had been carried out, they would have to win over the scientific and business communities.
"It’s been a long and arduous road. Luckily the two of us were able to join our forces and gradually take the idea further. I had the necessary contacts and took a back seat at the meetings when we started discussing the nitty-gritty of the new technology", says Vilenius.
In 2009, the TUT-affiliated technology transfer company Tamlink Ltd signed a research contract with Bosch Rexroth AG. This German company is one of the world’s leading specialists in the field of industrial and mobile hydraulics. This was the breakthrough that Linjama and Vilenius had been working for.
Tamlink Ltd has patented the most important innovations underlying digital hydraulics. Partnering with a global giant such as Bosch Rexroth AG guarantees a steady flow of investments in product development and manufacturing processes. A couple of years ago the company introduced a new valve that is compatible with digital hydraulics. It has stimulated further research in this intriguing field.
The parties signed the third consecutive research contract in autumn 2012. It is quite rare that a major international corporation engages in such extensive research collaboration with one university.
"It is hard work but the collaboration creates positive ripple effects that also benefit students. Bosch Rexroth offers internships to our students and career opportunities to our graduates," say Vilenius and Linjama.