The history of hydraulic starting systems

The history of hydraulic starting systems starts with US Navy landing craft during World War 2. The Navy had thousands of landing craft which were used to land troops on the beaches. These were initially built with electric starter motors and batteries.

But there was a problem.

The corrosive nature of salt water combined with long periods of inactivity meant that these electric starter motors and batteries were not reliable enough. Landings were time critical and vital operations could be scuppered if landing craft couldn’t move.

history of hydraulic starting

US landing craft used hydraulic starter motors for reliability

The US Navy commissioned a project to design a better solution to engine starting. It specifically wanted a technology that could cope with salt water environments and long periods of inactivity.

The hydraulic starting system was born. The initial solution used a hydro-pneumatic accumulator to store energy which turned a piston motor, engaging a bendix into the ring gear, cranking the engine. The basic principles and theory of hydraulic starters have not changed to this day.


IPU and Powerstart

IPU are the worldwide distributor for Powerstart hydraulic starter motors. Powerstart (or Fluid Precision as they were originally known) have a long and distinguished history in the industry. They started by supplying other brands of starter motor to the mining industry in South Africa.

A tragic accident at the Kinross gold mine lead to a change in the regulations governing the equipment used South African mines. Aluminium was identified as a primary cause of thermite reactions in fiery mines. Powerstart wanted their supplier to make cast iron starter motors and control valves but this did not happen (many starter motors still use aluminium bodies to this day, making them less safe for use in hazardous areas).

Powerstart’s response was to design and build its first cast-iron hydraulic starter, the M22. The range expanded over the next decade to its current size and diversified into air (pneumatic) starter motors. IPU have been their distributor since the early 1990s.


The development of pre-engaged starter motors

Powerstart have also developed pre-engaged starter motors for extra safety. These have been critical for the range’s growth in the oil and gas and mining industries. Pre-engaged starter motors only start cranking the engine at high speed once the starter’s pinion has engaged with the engine’s ring gear. This reduces the chance of sparking. It is a central part of the ATEX and BS safety regulations that govern operations in hazardous environments.