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Insights What is hydraulics engineering and which developments are leading the way in 2024?

Hydraulic engineering is a branch of civil engineering that specializes in building hydraulic engineering designs—‘hydraulic’ stemming from the Ancient Greek word for water.

Hydraulic power, the use of water and machinery to generate movement, is something humans have been working on for millennia. As far back as Ancient Egypt, Rome, and the California Gold Rush of the 1800s, hydraulic engineering has played a pivotal role in the evolution of our society.

Modern hydraulics has evolved far beyond water mills and dams; it is now a multi-billion dollar industry that spans mechatronics, industrial automation, construction activities, and agriculture.

Whether you’re a civil engineer who’s curious about specializing in hydraulics or a recent graduate seeking an internship in engineering, it can be helpful to understand the well-established sector of hydraulics engineering and the opportunities it presents.

Let’s take a look at hydraulic engineering from the perspective of its history, where it stands today, and what trends are paving its future.

What are some of the major developments in the history of hydraulics?

Reportedly, the first instance of hydraulic engineering dates back to the Perachora Wheel invented in 3 BC. This first example of a hydro-powered wheel sits alongside many other monumental hydraulic inventions at the hands of the Ancient Greeks, such as dams, tunnels, and water pumps.

In Ancient Rome, water mills were used to process stone, flour, and wood. This laid the foundation upon which hydraulic mining was developed, which went on to be instrumental during the Californian Gold Rush from 1848-1855.

What do hydraulic engineers do?

Today’s hydraulic engineers are often tasked with conceptualizing and constructing water management systems. Dykes, bridges, underwater tunnels, flood defenses, new canals, and water treatment plants are all examples of hydraulic engineering.

Typically supported by a team of other engineers, professional hydraulic engineers find innovative solutions related to water problems—like rising sea levels—while accounting for environmental impact, safety, and costs.

But that’s not the full spectrum of hydraulics engineering.

The hydraulics power sector is a branch of mechatronics that specializes in heavy machinery run on hydraulic principles. Hydraulics equipment is commonly used in aviation, agriculture, and construction.

What are the latest developments in hydraulics?

  • Fluid-hydraulic pumps have revolutionized many industries, like pharmaceuticals and construction. Centrifugal pumps make up one of the key sectors of the modern hydraulics market, alongside other pump sets and hydraulics services.
  • Hydraulic-powered Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are creating a stir in the industry today, bringing forth the advent of an automated device that can carry loads weighing several tons at a time.
  • Hydraulic accumulators are a subset of hydraulic engineering that have changed the industry landscape in recent times, with compressed gas accumulators—or hydro-pneumatic accumulators—being the most commonly used.

What are the future uses of hydraulics?

An interesting—albeit uncertain—future sits on the hydraulics industry’s horizon. The rapidly increasing integration of IT in the engineering world will undoubtedly seep into the hydraulic engineering sector.

This leaves experts wondering whether an—as of yet, undefined—technological shift will divert the hydraulics industry away from the electromechanical and towards a new frontier.

As long as energy efficiency continues to sit atop the list of global priorities, one can surmise that hydraulics-focused civil engineers will continue to play an instrumental role in achieving sustainability goals.

Explore hydraulic engineer jobs with AtkinsRéalis

Now that you have a more in-depth understanding of the hydraulics industry and its potential opportunities, why not discover hydraulic engineering and civil engineering careers with AtkinsRéalis?

We pride ourselves on being at the forefront of opportunities in the engineering sector and are passionate about sustainable innovation. If these values speak to you, we hope you’ll reach out about your career progression today.