School Subjects: Math, Shop
Personal Skills: Mechanical/manipulative Technical/scientific
Work Environment: Mostly indoors; Primarily one location
Minimum Education Level: Some postsecondary training
Wage or Salary Range: $38,500 to $45,000 to $50,000+
Certification or Licensing: Voluntary
Future growth: About as fast as the average
GOE: 05.10.0 1
Fluid power technicians work with equipment that utilizes the pressure of a liquid or gas in a closed container to transmit, multiply, or control power. Working under the supervision of an engineer or engineering staff, they assemble, install, maintain, & test fluid power equipment, which is found in almost every facet of American daily life.
Machinery that operates using fluid power has been used for thousands of years. In Roman times, water flowing past a rotating paddle wheel was used to produce power for milling. Early leather bellows, hand-operated by blacksmiths, were the first known devices to use compressed air. In 16th- century Italy, a more sophisticated bellows that used falling water to compress air was invented. Shortly thereafter, Denis Papin, a French physicist, used power from a waterwheel to compress air in a similar manner.
The 19th century brought the first practical application of an air-driven, piston-operated hammer, invented in Great Britain by George Law. In the mid-1800s, water-cooled reciprocating compressors were introduced in the United States & resulted in the development of large compressed-air units that factory workers used to operate industrial tools. In 1875, American engineer & industrialist George Westinghouse created & utilized a continuous automatic compressed-air brake system for trains.
In their work, fluid power technicians analyze blueprints, drawings, & specifications; set up various milling, shaping, grinding, & drilling machines; make precision parts; use sensitive measuring instruments to make sure the parts are exactly the required size; & use hand & power tools to put together components of the fluid power system they are assembling or repairing.
Technicians may also be responsible for testing fluid power systems. To determine whether a piece of equipment is working properly, they connect the unit to test equipment that measures such factors as fluid pressure, flow rates, & power loss from friction or wear. Based on their analysis of the test results, they may advise changes in the equipment setup or instrumentation.
Some technicians work for companies that research better ways to develop & use fluid power systems. They may work in laboratories as part of research & development teams who set up fluid power equipment & test it under operating conditions. Other technicians work as sales & service representatives for companies that make & sell fluid power equipment to industrial plants. These technicians travel from one plant to another, providing customers with specialized information & assistance with equipment. Some technicians repair & maintain fluid power components of heavy equipment used in construction, on farms, or in mining. Because fluid power technology is important in the flight controls, landing gear, & brakes of air planes, many technicians are also employed in the aircraft industry.
If you are considering a career in fluid power, you should take as many courses as possible in computer science & mathematics. Physics, shop, drafting, & English will also provide a solid back ground for this type of work.
In the past, you could become a fluid power technician with only a high school diploma & , perhaps, some related technical experience. Technicians were trained in fluid power technology by their employers or by taking short courses or workshops. Today, however, most employers prefer to hire fluid power technicians who have at least two years of post-high school training, such as that offered by community & technical colleges.
There are relatively few technical training programs—fewer than 25 in the entire United States—that focus primarily on fluid power technology. A student enrolled in one of these programs might expect to take classes on very specialized topics, such as fluid power math, process & fabrication fundamentals, hydraulic components & accessories, pneumatic components & circuits, & advanced systems calculations. If it’s not possible to attend one of the schools that offers programs in fluid power, training in a related field, such as mechanical or electrical technology, can provide adequate preparation for employment.
Certification or Licensing
Certification for fluid power technicians is voluntary. Offered through the Fluid Power Certification Board, the certification process is administered by the Fluid Power Society. Applicants must attend two or more days of classes & pass a three-hour, written examination before receiving technician certification. This certification may be beneficial to technicians in finding jobs, obtaining more advanced positions, or receiving higher pay.
Technicians must be able to understand & analyze mechanical systems. In order to do this well, you should have both mechanical aptitude & an analytical mindset. Because you will often work as a member of a team, an ability to work well & communicate easily with others is important. Finally, you should enjoy challenges & troubleshooting problems.
Your school or public library should have books that explain the field of fluid power. If you happen to live near one of the schools that offers a degree in fluid power technology, it may be possible to arrange a meeting with instructors or students in the program. Talking with a fluid power technician can be an excellent way of learning about the job firsthand. Finally, taking certain classes, such as machine shop, physics, or electronics, might help you gauge your enjoyment & ability level for this work.
The largest consumers of fluid power products are the aerospace, construction equipment, agricultural equipment, machine tool, & material handling industries, according to the National Fluid Power Association, an industry trade organization. Fluid power also pro vides power for auxiliary systems on planes, ships, trains, & trucks.
Most fluid power technicians obtain their jobs through their community & technical college placement offices. In addition, organizations such as the Fluid Power Society & the Fluid Power Educational Foundation have lists of their corporate members that can be used to start a job search. Some openings might be listed in the employment sections of newspapers.
Some technicians advance simply by becoming more knowledgeable & skilled in their work & eventually receive more responsibility. Another route for technicians is to become a fluid power specialist by taking additional training & upgrading their certification. A specialist designs & applies systems & can instruct newer employees on the basics of fluid power systems.
Some technicians go into sales & marketing, using their experience & knowledge to provide customers with technical assistance. Another option is to become a fluid power consultant, who works with different companies to analyze, design, or improve fluid power systems.
Salaries for fluid power technicians vary according to geographic location & industry. A Fluid Power Educational Foundation survey reports that college graduates (of both two- & four-year programs) earned starting salaries of $38,500 in the late 1990s. An estimated national average wage for technicians might be in the mid-$40,000s. Those who move into consulting or other advanced positions can earn even more. Most workers in this field receive a full benefits pack age, often including vacation days, sick leave, medical & life insurance, & a retirement plan.
Because fluid power technicians work in any number of different industries, their work environments vary. Many work in industrial settings & must spend much of their time on the manufacturing floor. In this case, they may have to become accustomed to noise & heat generated by the machinery, although the industry is addressing the noise level issue. Others work in laboratories or testing facilities. Those involved in sales & marketing or in installing & repairing equipment may travel to different customer locations.
The work is frequently dirty, as technicians often have to handle machinery that has been used & may be leaking fluid. Also, working on large machinery & components requires physical strength & may require being in areas where safety regulations must be followed.
Many workers in this field find their jobs enjoyable & satisfying. Because they deal with different problems & solutions all the time, the work is challenging, interesting, & not repetitious. It can also be gratifying to figure out how to make a machine run properly or improve upon its performance through testing & experimenting.
Because fluid power is used in so many different industries, the need for technicians is growing rapidly. Currently, in fact, the demand for these trained workers exceeds the supply. In the 1990s, electro-hydraulic & electro-pneumatic technologies opened up new markets, such as active suspensions on automobiles, & reestablished older markets, such as robotics. Therefore, the fluid power industry is expected to continue growing & the outlook for technicians should remain strong through the next decade.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For a list of schools offering courses in fluid power technology & information about available scholarships, contact
3333 North Mayfair Road, Suite 101
Milwaukee, WI 53222
For information on certification, contact:
P0 Box 1420
Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
For career information & an overview of the fluid power industry, contact:
3333 North Mayfair Road
Milwaukee, WI 53222-3219
G. Gordon is the coordinator for the fluid power & controls & power & equipment programs at Ohio State University-Wooster. Here, he talks about his school’s program & the career of fluid power technician.
Q. For what type of jobs does the study of fluid power technology prepare students?
A. Our fluid power & controls program culminates with an associate of applied science degree. The comments herein are framed within the perspective of this two-year program (and perhaps other similar programs around the country).
If we must select a narrow group of lob titles for which our graduates are prepared, the list would include: application engineer service representative, engineering technician, & perhaps technical support specialist. In the broader sense, our graduates are employed in jobs ranging from industrial maintenance to chief hydraulic engineer. Amazingly, that latter position is with only a two-year degree & some on-the-job experience, of course.
There are some differences among students as well as the educational institutions offering such programs. Many entering students initially envision their career involving strictly service, repair, & maintenance types of jobs. And many schools cater to these types of opportunities & student interests. The demand for trained, quality people throughout the industry exists at all levels. Our focus here in Wooster is to prepare students to be successful at jobs that involve component application & system design as well as the repair, service, & maintenance types of jobs.
Q. What are the most important personal & professional qualities for someone studying fluid power technology?
& Students have to be serious & be able to grasp the concepts involved. In many cases, travel is a big part of the jobs our graduates hold. We find that math ability & mechanical aptitude are two huge indicators of success. People skills are also key for those pursuing careers that involve sales & customer contact It’s safe to say that on the non-technical side of the coin, communication skills in general are a key indicator
Q. When the average student enters your program, what are their expectations? Are these expectations realistic or unrealistic? Are new students prepared or unprepared for the course work?
A. Most students enroll in fluid power programs by referral. Fluid power is a hidden field: No one graduates from high school wanting to be the hydraulics guy or the controls person. Most students are here because someone else suggested to them that they do so. So they’re not really sure what to expect. One of our most important jobs early on is to do industry & career orientation. Students need to have their eyes opened, so to speak. They need to be made aware of the vast opportunities that await them. We put considerable emphasis on this point.
With respect to preparation, math is the single most critical indicator. Many of our students are well prepared in this area. Others are not; especially those coming out of vocational pro-grams. It’s difficult for most students to fully concentrate on & grasp the concepts involved if they are struggling with algebra.
Q. What advice would you give students as they graduate from your program & look for jobs?
A. Don’t be afraid to move & to pursue opportunities that you didn’t even know existed less than two years ago.
Q. Any misconceptions about this field that you’d like to clear up?
A. That these graduates only work on fluid power systems. In many cases, they are actually designing the new systems.
Q. Are there any changes in this job market that students should expect? Have certain area of this field been especially promising in recent years?
A. Electric drives are making their way into plastics; so that segment is dwindling a bit More & more of our graduates are finding work with original equipment manufacturers & suppliers. That segment seems strong, although most of these businesses follow the general economy as well. We have never had a problem placing graduates. Is just depends on whether they’re willing to go to where the better opportunities exist
Electronic controls are becoming much more prevalent. These have existed on industrial machinery for many years, but the major recent major advances have occurred in the mobile market. And the switch from analog control systems to digital is gaining significant momentum. Anyone preparing for a fluid power career should also be preparing to work with electronic controls. A fluid power degree that includes a significant treatment of electronics results in a very highly employable individual.
Q. What is the future of your program?A. We’ll be around for a while. The major growth segment is in the area of noncredit instruction. In Wooster , the noncredit program is called industrial automation maintenance. This program is very strong & growing—even more so than the degree program. Our degree program is extremely unique & has very little serious competition in the region. It will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. Industry support continues to be extremely strong, which is evidence of the need for qualified people to work in the industry.