All About Hydraulic Cylinders

A hydraulic cylinder, or hydraulic actuator, is a widely used mechanical actuator that finds use within manufacturing, construction, civil engineering, and aviation sectors. Their purpose is to generate mechanical force for linear motion in numerous applications, most of which include pressing, pulling, pushing, or lifting something that necessitates exceptional force. As an integral part of many operations, we will provide a brief overview of hydraulic cylinders, how they work, their main components, and their varying types.

Hydraulic cylinders operate according to Pascal’s Principle of fluid mechanics. In the 17th century, French physicist Blaise Pascal discovered that any change in the pressure of a hydraulic fluid produces an equal distribution of energy in every direction within the fluid chamber. This means that if there are two pistons in one container and an “X” amount of pressure is applied on one piston, an equal amount of pressure affects the second piston.

Pascal also found that the pressure in a fluid chamber is equal to the force applied divided by the area of the chamber. The formula used to determine the pressure is P=F/A, and it has become the foundation for industrial machinery all over the globe. For example, take two pistons in a fluid chamber and apply pressure to the first cylinder. If the area is seven times greater than the first area, then the force on the second cylinder will be seven times greater.

Hydraulic Cylinder Components

There are several different types of hydraulic cylinders, from micro-hydraulic cylinders to massive industrial cylinders, all of which contain the same basic components.

  • Piston: The piston rod extends out of the cylinder head and uses the forces produced by hydraulic fluid to retract or extend. Meanwhile, seals are situated around the piston to keep the correct pressure in the barrel.

  • Cylinder Barrel: The barrel consists of a seamless steel tube that houses the cylinder. Due to its solid structure, the barrel maintains pressure and prevents leaking with ease.

  • Cylinder Head: As previously mentioned, the head is the part of the cylinder where the piston retracts or extends. When the piston extends, the other end of the barrel is closed off to maintain pressure. Usually, the head is equipped with bearings that align the piston and seals that keep the cylinder secured.

  • Cylinder Base: The barrel is enclosed at the cylinder base and sealed to prevent fluid leaks. Generally, the equipment that is using the cylinder is mounted at the cylinder base.

  • Gaskets, Seals, and Other Components: The seals and gaskets are dynamic components that must have the capacity to withstand extreme pressures and temperatures; thus, they are available in many materials and styles.

Different Types of Hydraulic Cylinders

There are many types of hydraulic cylinders on the market, with the following four serving as the most common:

Single-Acting Cylinders generate power when hydraulic fluid makes its way into a single port and flows into the cylinder, causing the cylinder to retract. Also called push cylinders, they have a single-acting piston that moves in one direction and requires a motor or spring to reset its position.

Double-Acting Cylinders do not need a spring or motor to operate because they have two pressurized chambers. As such, fluid enters one port and exits the other, making the cylinder retract or extend.

Telescopic Cylinders utilize a series of single-acting cylinders. When one cylinder retracts, it transfers force to the next cylinder.

Tandem Cylinders have two separate barrels connected via piston rods and achieve large amounts of force in small areas. For more power, they can be combined in stages.


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