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In hydraulic systems, a fuse is a component which prevents the sudden loss of hydraulic fluid pressure. It is a safety feature, designed to allow systems to continue operating, or at least to not fail catastrophically, in the event of a system breach. It does this by stopping the flow of hydraulic fluid through itself if the flow exceeds a threshold.
The term "fuse" is used here in analogy with electrical fuses which perform a similar function.
Hydraulic systems rely on high pressures (usually over 7000 kPa) to work properly. If a hydraulic system loses fluid pressure, it will become inoperative and components such as actuators may collapse. This is an undesirable condition in life-critical systems such as aircraft or heavy machinery. Hydraulic fuses help guard against catastrophic failure of a hydraulic system (for instance, by line breakage or component failure) by automatically isolating the defective branch.
When a hydraulic system is damaged, there is generally a rapid flow of hydraulic fluid towards the breach. Most hydraulic fuses detect this flow and seal themselves if the flow exceeds a predetermined limit. There are many different fuse designs but most involve a passive spring-controlled mechanism which closes when the pressure differential across the fuse becomes excessive.
There are two types of hydraulic fuses. The first one acts like a pressure relief valve, venting in case of a pressure surge. The second is more or less like a check valve. The only difference is a check valve is in place to prevent upstream fluid from coming back and venting out. A fuse is in place before the venting area and stops fluid from venting forward of it.
Hydraulic fuses are not a perfect solution to fluid loss. They will probably be ineffective against slow, seeping loss of hydraulic fluid, and they may be unable to prevent fluid loss in the event of a catastrophic system failure involving multiple breaches to hydraulic lines. Also, when a fuse activates it is likely that the system will no longer function as designed.
Depending on the system, hydraulic fuses may reset automatically after a delay, or may require manual re-opening.
In dam spillways
In the design of a spillway for a dam, a fuse plug is a water retaining structure designed to wash out in a controlled fashion if the main dam is in danger of overtopping due to flood, and if the normal spillway channel is insufficient to control the over topping.