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Powertrain for a pachyderm: diesel-hydraulic system helps 40 ft. mechanical elephant make its stately way around Isle of Nantes.

Engineers, hydraulic distributors and systems integrators typically receive a lot of requests for quotes and design assistance. With the application of hydraulics covering everything from Deere tractors to Disneyland rides, it would seem like nothing all that new could cross a designer's desk.

However the mission to "recreate the fluid leg movements of a real elephant," using a diesel engine and a sophisticated fluid power system is likely to rank somewhere near the top of the All-Time Strange Request For Quotes list.

Debuting midyear at a former shipyard in one of France's historic cities is a 40 ft. high, 26.7 ft. wide, 44 ton diesel-hydraulic elephant, which is now a permanent part of the Machines of the Isle of Nantes. The "Machines de I'lle" is an innovative artistic project imagined by Francois Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice. This project is a mixture of the "invented worlds" of Jules Verne, the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci and the industrial history of the city of Nantes.

The mechanical pachyderm is similar to the Sultan's Elephant that was part of a street show created by the Royal de Luxe theatre company that toured Europe in 2005 marking the 100th anniversary of Nantes native Jules Verne's death.


The huge steel-and-wooden creature now makes its home at the

Machines de I'lle exhibition, which will eventually include additional displays such as the Marine Worlds in 2009 that is expected to include an Atlantic manta ray, a crab larva, a pirate fish and a squid. Due in 2011 is the Tree of Birds.


The magic of the 44 ton elephant, which can carry up to 30 people and moves around the Isle of Nantes at a leisurely 1.2 mph, is coordinated by 10 people working the individual movements. The elephant can trumpet and move its ears, eyes and tail, as well as stroll.

To do all that, a combination of diesel, hydraulic and pneumatic components are used, with the hydraulics system alone using 4 tons of fluid. The heart (as it were) of the beast is a Cummins QSM 11 diesel engine rated 425 hp that was packaged by Mecatlantic, the Cummins France dealer in Brittany. The elephant is "driven" by a cab located just under the beast's head via two Sauer-Danfoss Prof 1 joysticks.

The hydraulic system components were supplied by Hydequip, the Sauer-Danfoss distributor in Bayeux, France. Moving the elephant at its stately pace are a pair of Sauer-Danfoss Series 90 axial piston variable displacement pumps that have a 130 cc/rev displacement and incorporate an electrical displacement control.

Among the key components in the operation of the massive pachyderm are the load-sensing valves, in this case, Sauer-Danfoss PVG 32 valves. "Since the machine was to be outside in all types of weather, subject to varying temperatures and vibration, we needed to have proportional control plus high precision to simulate the elephant's movements," said Eric Borre, Hydequip account manager.

He said the modular design of the PVG 32 valves allowed them to be built in tailor-made groups to meet specific needs, in this case continuous simultaneous movements requiring 158 gpm flow.

The valves supplied by Hydequip include a total of 51 PVG 32 slices with an integrated Sauer-Danfoss PVEH proportional electronic actuator. Borre said all the high-level control algorithms were done by Yves Rollot of La Machine, which contracted with Hydequip for the elephant hydraulics.
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Title Annotation:Innovative Uses of Horsepower
Publication:Diesel Progress North American Edition
Article Type:Cover story
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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