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Engineers Need Electrohydraulic Standards

Dec. 9, 2009
The IEC 61131 Standard guides engineers in designing and operating electrohydraulic industrial controls by standardizing the programming interface.
William Van Arsdale
Eaton Hydraulics Group
Eden Prairie, Minn.

There is nothing quite as efficient as a soft economy for focusing our attention on technologies that help us do more with less. Electrohydraulics is an example. The marriage of electronic “brains” and hydraulic “muscle” promises to improve the efficiency of thousands of applications of both technologies, while opening a whole new realm of possibilities for using their incredibly synergistic capabilities.

All we really need to make that happen is a set of design, application, and hardware standards that will move electrohydraulics into the mainstream alongside the traditional mechanical, hydraulic, and electronic technologies of today. Each of those disciplines has its own set of standards which lets engineers and users focus on function without worrying about the proprietary details of each specific design element or component.

As we have seen in other markets, most notably the computer industry, standardization forces competitors to add value to their products rather than enforce market share through proprietary designs. And, while the transition may be difficult for some, the rewards clearly flow to those who embrace the change and aggressively implement standards-based approaches.

The good news: The components for unified electrohydraulic standards either exist now or are rapidly taking shape through the efforts of groups around the world. For instance, the PLCopen organization ( is working to harmonize the mechanical and electrical design tools needed for electrohydraulics under IEC 61131, the only global standard for industrial-control programming. According to the organization, it guides people in designing and operating industrial controls by standardizing the programming interface.

In practical terms this effort will result in a set of standard engineering and design tools that can be used to create electrohydraulic systems with a high level of confidence in their real-world performance.

Eaton, like many of its competitors, is a member of PLCopen precisely because it recognizes the real advantages of standards-based solutions. Today, electrical-system designers have a much better set of design tools than their hydraulic-system counterparts. But when fully implemented, standards like IEC 61131 will provide a comprehensive set of tools applicable to both technologies and their hybrid offspring, electrohydraulics.

Even more important, these tools will be equally useful for designing both mobile and industrial electrohydraulic systems. That will be a huge step forward. Together with advances being made in standards-based communication technologies like controller-area network (CAN) and industrial Ethernet, and it’s not difficult to see electrohydraulic technology becoming as mature and as useful as traditional mechanical, electronic, and hydraulic counterparts.

We feel electrohydraulic technology has achieved a critical mass and is now ready to take its place alongside those traditional disciplines. The electrohydraulic-standards bus is about the leave the station. It’s time to get onboard or get left behind.

Eaton Corp. is a diversified power-management company supplying electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic, fluid conveyance, and drivetrain/powertrain systems. Eaton’s Hydraulics Group ( designs and manufactures components and systems for mobile and industrial applications.

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