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Humans are creatures of habit, we like routine and familiarity as it makes us feel safe. Change is a hard pill to swallow; although some people deal with it better than others it can take a lot for someone to proactively look at a different way of doing things. Change is usually something that is imposed upon a person out of necessity, so if there is no perceived reason to change a situation then we generally carry on as normal.
This thought pattern may be one reason why hydraulic systems designers tend to opt for high pressure systems and the familiar components that can cope with being under extreme pressure. It is far easier to take an existing basic idea and tailor it for a new application without even considering alternative approaches, which is why low pressure hydraulic systems are something of a rarity in the world of fluid power.
The basic equation of force = pressure x area, lends itself to working with a smaller area and a higher pressure to exact the same amount of force that a large area under lower pressure would exert. This is attractive to designers as it means systems can have sleek, narrow cylinders and in many cases, this is needed to ensure the assembly fits in the space available. That is not always the case, however, so hydraulic designers should consider low pressure systems as a possibility for some applications.
Low pressure hydraulic systems can be a lot more cost effective than high pressure ones, as there is a reduce possibility of leaks, and if they do occur they will take less time to clean up and fix. The materials used to build the components can also be a lot cheaper, as they will not have to withstand the high pressures normally associated with hydraulic systems. Plastic components, flexible nylon tubing and even thin extruded aluminium cylinders all work perfectly well at pressures under 50 or 60 bar, and are a lot more economical than the high pressure alternatives.
Sometimes a low-pressure system is really the only possible solution to a problem, especially when designing complex systems with many lengths of tubing, serving several small cylinders off a central motor. This is when the materials that need to be used dictate the operating pressure of the system, rather than the operating pressure dictating the materials. If the pipes need to fit through pre-defined holes in the machinery casing, or need to wind around parts of the machinery then flexible nylon is the best option. This low-pressure approach allows designers to consider every angle from which to solve the design problem, and can result in some great innovations that otherwise might have gone undiscovered.
The only drawback to low pressure hydraulic systems is the need for a larger reservoir to hold the extra fluid that is needed to fill the system when it is in operation. Size and space can be a stumbling block for low pressure systems, as the larger cylinder diameter means more space is needed. Sometimes this can be cleverly engineered in, by placing the reservoir further away from the operational components of the hydraulic system and making good use of the cheap nylon tubing to run the fluid up to the moving parts.
There will always be cases where high pressure systems are a must, due to the application, the forces needed and the space available to house the hydraulic system, but at the same time there will always be systems where low pressure is more effective in terms of performance and cost, so considering both angles before diving in to a design is a worthwhile task that could lead to the next big thing in hydraulics.
Designers working on hydraulic systems often opt straight for high working pressures, often due to the availability of components that are tried and tested as working well together. There may also be a requirement to use a certain manufacturer or part in the design, specified due to cost, stock and other business reasons. Designers often also like to use high pressures to reduce the cylinder diameters for aesthetic reasons, as well as design specific reasons; if a system would not fit in the desired place with a wide cylinder then a narrower one must be used, necessitating a high pressure system.
It seems then, that designers of hydraulic systems opt for high pressure because of familiar components, familiar design and because increasing the pressure results in smaller cylinders that may fit better in the space and which certainly look nicer. Very often, the designer will not be working with costs at the forefront of their mind, but if they were to use the monetary factor as their starting point when designing a new system, they may look more favourably on low pressure systems, as the materials are cheaper and just as reliable. When working at pressures of 600 bar plus, carbon steel is the standard option for component manufacture, as the material needs to be incredibly strong to withstand the forces occurring within. Low pressure systems, operating at around 60 bar or so, can be fabricated in alloy or composite metals, even plastics in some cases, bringing costs down. The other benefit to not using carbon steel is the weight of the finished product; where weight is an issue, it is a good idea to start the design process by looking at how a low pressure hydraulic system can achieve the desired result.
The main differences between low and high pressure hydraulic systems is the reservoir size, as filling a large diameter cylinder requires more fluid than a smaller one. This may be a problem when creating space-saving or space-limited equipment, but if space is not such an issue then the reservoir size need not be a problem. The input power is not much more than with a high pressure system; the same force can be achieved by exerting a high pressure on a small area as by exerting a low pressure over a large area, so overall the input is the same. Of course, balancing these forces exactly may result in a bulky system to operate at low pressure, but very similar forces can be achieved without going to extremes.
The alternative to low pressure hydraulic systems is electric actuators, but in systems that require multiple cylinders the execution of the design becomes more complex, as each one needs to be powered individually, requiring more wiring and by extension, more components that could fail. By remaining with hydraulic technology the system can be kept simple, with only one hydraulic pump (which can be sited remotely, another plus for systems where the input is physically separated from the output) needed to effect motion in all cylinders. Manual override is also a lot simpler in hydraulic systems and they tend to be more reliable and sturdy than the electrical alternatives.
The final benefits of low pressure hydraulic systems are the reliability, and the flexibility of material choice for piping. Although seals can fail on any hydraulic equipment, they are less likely to occur when the seal is not constantly under high pressure and any leak will not be as catastrophic as in a high pressure system, more akin to the pressure from a kitchen tap than a fire hose. Some hydraulic hoses can be bulky and inflexible, but if the system is operating at a low pressure then nylon tubing can be used instead. This is flexible, narrower and much easier to work with than most hydraulic hoses and is therefore, a great option when installing hydraulic systems in places that are hard to access or where the output is sited far away from the input and there is a lot of complex and immoveable machinery in the way. Nylon tubing is also cheap, further reducing the costs.
A good example of a low pressure hydraulic system that works incredibly well is the BFT hydraulic gate and door opener. On the market for over 30 years, this system is still the benchmark for gate opening systems and proof that low pressure hydraulic systems can work very well; sometimes they are even the best option.
In a Hydraulic System, you are most likely aware that the main system pressure is maintained by the system relief valve or even another type of pressure setting device.
The purpose of pressure reducing values is to keep the secondary pressures correct in branches of hydraulic systems.
Most pressure reducing valves are open and 2 way, this allows the pressure to flow freely until they reach further downstream where there is a set pressure. They then shift to throttle the flow in the branch.
Forces from pressure downstream are what actuates pressure reducing valves. This is what will deliver the correct working pressure by enabling a pressure drop to occur in the main spool of the valve. The way that a press-reducing valve works is that it is not a device that is either on or off. In contrast, it delivers a continual adjustment to the pressure. Keep in mind that these types of valves are the most conducive to suffering from contamination when it comes to malfunctioning.
Pressure-reducing valves can go wrong in a number of ways. Again, pressure gauges will need to be installed in order to understand what’s going wrong with one. Once this has been done, you can look for:
· A low pressure at outlet port. If this drops below what it should be, the first action to take is to check the pilot head spool and seat. Check for wear and tear which may be affecting the drain flow. Too much drain flow through this area of the valve will result in reduced pressure and therefore affect performance.
· If you find that the valve will not retain a reduced pressure setting, and the pressure is exceeding it, then check whether the pilot drain line is blocked or affected by contaminants. This will increase pressure which will result in flow to the branch circuit. It’s also possible that the main spool is stuck open due to contaminants blocking it. Again, there could be scoring of either the main spool or bore.
· If you find that you cannot adjust the value to the low pressure setting, even after turning the adjustment knob, then check whether there is wear of the spool or bore. There may even be a broken spring in the pilot head, which will mean not enough force between spool to seat in the control head.
· If there is not enough pressure at the output port, check whether the main spool is stuck in the closed position. This will result in no pressure fluid being unable to flow to the branch. Contaminants could be to blame.
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Although using high-pressure hydraulic systems is considered to be one of the safest methods of applying force, there are still some important factors to take into account. They are powerful tools and can take on any bending, lifting, pushing or pulling work that you need performed, but there are some important safety factors that need to be observed.
Surprisingly, one of the weak points of the hydraulic system when it comes to safety is that it is very easy to use. This can lead to complacency and in some cases abuse. As with any type of equipment use, there are rules to be followed and disciplines to observe in order to get the best from these machines whilst keeping yourself and others in the vicinity of the equipment safe from harm. Following these guidelines can also often ensure longer lifespan and greater efficiency of the machinery.
In the following passages we look at the different areas of safety that will need to be taken into consideration when dealing with high pressure hydraulic tools.
Just as with any equipment, it’s necessary to observe standard safety rules. This means that gloves, safety glasses, boots or safety shoes and a hard hat all need to be worn. As in any environment that can be hazardous, these should be considered fundamental necessities.
Although most engineers will take the most obvious precautions to avoid accidents whilst taking the longevity of the equipment life into consideration, most mishaps and issues will come from either not operating the equipment properly or not assembling it in the right way. It’s important to understand each function in addition to being clear how it works. Take time out to learn your machinery and how it works.
Lifting of loads that are over capacity is something that can result in trouble. Not only will the cylinders be at risk of damage but it can also result in bent plungers and blown seals.
Keep in mind the following points:
- Take an estimate of what you think the load will be, then apply a suitable safety factor.
- Keep in mind that some of your pumps will be equipped with relief valves whilst others won’t be.
- The use of a gauge will help to give an indication of which operating loads are safe.
- Your gauge should also be used to determine whether there is any pressure in the system before you make any changes or breaks in the hydraulic connection.
- Check your environment before you either advance or retract a cylinder.
Fundamentally, two types of cylinders are used in hydraulic systems. The single acting and the double acting.
Single acting cylinders may be any of these types:
· Spring return
· Load return
Double acting cylinders work with the use of hydraulics and advance and retract.
It’s important that you follow these safety guideline rules for cylinders:
- If you need to position the cylinder on the ground, ensure that the base is able to bear the weight of it. It wouldn’t be funny to watch your hydraulic cylinder disappear into soil. A jacking based should be used, or at least a steel or timber plate that will enable the load to be spread.
- The saddle should have the load spread across it, and not be point loaded.
- Stay clear of and be careful around any areas that are directly below a load that the hydraulic cylinder is supporting.
- Situate your cylinders in order to give enough clearance space for extension of them.
- Excessive heat is any heat that is above and beyond 65°C. This needs to be avoided otherwise packing will be softened and hoses weakened. If there is heat that is not avoidable, use either a piece of metal or a heat-resistant blanket to protect the cylinder.
- Keep oil connectors clean and wipe any couplers before they are connected. Dust caps are provided for a reason and that’s to keep dust and dirt out. If you choose not to use them, be aware that you’re likely to experience scoring of the cylinder walls and this can lead to the eventual failure of seals.
- Over-extending cylinders should be avoided as not all of them have safety stop-rings installed.
- If you need to add oil to the pump, check whether the cylinder is already extended, if it is be sure not to disconnect them. The trouble with having too much oil in the system is that your reservoir could become pressurised and blow. If it doesn’t blow it will rupture.
Hydraulic Hand pumps
Depending upon the speed and oil capacity of your system, there is likely to be a pump available for each cylinder. These may be power-assisted or they could be manual in nature. Those applications that are lower speed and where it’s necessary to have that added human ‘touch’ will usually have a hand pump. If the application needs faster movement, or the cylinder is particularly large, then it will use a power pump.
It’s essential that the pump valve is suitable for the cylinder. For example, with single acting cylinders, there is usually a pump that has a 2 way or a 3 way valve. This equates to one outlet. When it comes to double acting cylinders you’re likely to find a 4 way valve which means it has 2 outlets. It’s dangerous to use a 2 way valves in combination with a double acting cylinder.
Check the pump reservoir level before using. Fill using the correct procedures if necessary. Remember that pump hoses will shorten when they are filled with pressure, so ensure there is enough slack to handle this.
With regards to power pumps, you can expect to come across one of these types:
· Petrol / Diesel
It’s fairly obvious that hose failure can occur after heavy objects being dropped on the hose cause damage, but it’s surprising how this escapes the thoughts of many engineers. We often hear stories of how something was dropped but then it was a forgotten memory and the next thing the engineer knows, the hose has failed and there has been a hydraulics disaster.
Another strongly recommended tip is that hydraulic equipment should not be carried by the hose. Most of us are well aware of this, but you will need to keep an eye on any young apprentices who are as yet unfamiliar with the norms of operating hydraulic systems. There should also be an eye kept out for any sharp bends in the hose. The internal wire braids can be damaged from this type of event and this will weaken the set up and could result in leaks and at worst a lethal situation.
An essential fundamental when it comes to hydraulic system safety is to check all fittings, hoses and connections to ensure that they are tightened as they should be and that they comply with the amount of pressure that they will need to be able to handle with your specific system.
We generally recommend that hydraulic systems use oil that is suggested by the manufacturer. The system will usually have been manufactured around that oil and the creators know that it will perform best with that particular one. You will need to change the oil periodically. This will ensure that the system does not get damaged by dirty oil. Ensure that hydraulic oils do not touch your skin.
After you have finished using your hydraulic machinery, it’s time to get it ready for the next job. You will need to clean it before storing it. You can do this by wiping it down. You will also need to lubricate any parts that are exposed.
In conclusion, operating hydraulic systems safely entails using the right cylinder with the right pump and the right oil. Although these rules may seem obvious and safe, it’s surprising how many people fail to adhere to them and put themselves and others in danger. Hydraulic equipment is very powerful but it can also be very dangerous.
The purpose of check valves within Hydraulic Power Packs and Systems is to allow fluid to pass in one direction but to prevent it from travelling the other direction, or doing what is known as a reverse flow. The device is usually added to a pipe to prevent oil from flowing backwards. When necessary the valve will close so that all backward movement of fluid is stopped.
The hydraulic check valve has two ports. One is the inlet for the hydraulic fluid to enter and the other is an outlet. They will both operate in combination with the motor, cylinders and hydraulic pump. The valve controls the flow of fluid for the correct operation of equipment.
Hydraulic valves are available in a number of different designs. They may look like a poppet, a disc or one of the ball or plunger types. This will depend on where and how they are being used as to what style and size is used.
Most often you’ll find hydraulic check valves used in application such as braking systems, construction tools, lifting systems and other hydraulic systems. They are installed in systems where the backup of fluid could cause serious issues.
For example, if oil flowed backwards through a pipe, it could empty a hydraulic system back into the equipment reservoir. Even when the machine is turned off the hydraulic valve can prevent fluid from flowing through the system, keeping it full ready for the next time it is operated.
Dual Pilot Operated Check valves (abbreviated P.O.C), are check valves that can be opened by an external pilot pressure. Flow is blocked in one direction as per a standard in line check valve, but it can be opened when sufficient pressure from a pilot line is applied to the third port. The pressure required at the pilot port is normally only 1/3 of the pressure locked within the cylinder. This is determined by the Pilot Ratio (3:1 and 4.5:1) are normally available. They are regularly used with double acting cylinders to lock the system when pressure is switched off, either intentionally or by accident or failure. They can be fitted directly between ports on a ram or incorporated into a power manifold block or module. It is preferable to mount them directly to a ram with “hard” pipework as this increases the integrity of the device. If the pilot check is only required or desired on one side of a cylinder then it can be on the A or B sides, referred to pilot check on A or B.
Regular applications for pilot check valves are rear loading ramps on commercial vehicles. Balers and compactors where the load needs to be held while baling occurs. Security access bollards and blockers to stop the creeping down when the system is at rest. It is important top note that POC are not best suited to applications that have a load that that will over run when they are reversed.
Flow control valves regulate the flow of a fluid and take many forms:
Fixed orifice: Basically a hole in a tube or an insert that fits into the hydraulic line, restricting the amount of fluid that can pass through it for a given pressure.
Adjustable orifice: The size of the effective orifice is adjustable. Common forms are inline and barrel type where the body of the valve is twisted, needle valves for fine adjustment on low flow systems. When set the adjustment can be locked. These are regularly used on lifts or tipper applications where the load is uniform.
Pressure compensating: When a load such as a cantilever passes through an arc the system pressure can vary. This causes the speed of the cylinder to change leading to potentially undesired results. To overcome this pressure compensating valve account for changes in pressure and delivers broadly uniform flow to the hydraulic actuator. In a scissor lift a high pressure is required at the initial raise and decreases as the mechanical advantage increases. The reverse is true when lowering under gravity so a compensating flow control is suited here.
Reverse flow check: On a single acting power pack the pump and motor combination are optimized to give the desired lift speed of the hydraulic cylinder. The flow control valve has an integral bypass line that allows full flow in the out direction, through a built-in check valve. When lowering the full flow oil path is checked and forced to go through the flow restriction allowing controlled descent of the cylinder.
This consists of two valves in one block. When operating a double acting ram the extend and retract speeds will differ, due to the different fluid volumes. From our control valve full flow is permitted through in one direction whereas the other side is flow controlled and/or vice versa, in this way the different valve settings will optimize the actuator speeds. A common example of this valve configuration would be a rear door on a horsebox where the door will need to close much more slowly to prevent shock and noise.
A relief valve is an important control device in virtually every hydraulic system. They protect the overall system from generating a pressure that could cause mechanical failure. It is a mechanical valve that requires no external input other the applied pressure. When this excess pressure is relieved it re-seats to allow normal operation to resume. The most common type comprises a spring and plunger pushing onto a seat. If the pressure exceeds that of the spring force the oil is spilled to a volume usually the oil reservoir. The springs have adjustment ranges for example 20-100 bar and the valves can be housed in cartridge, module or designed directly into an aluminum or steel hydraulic manifold.
A hydraulic circuit may have multiple relief valves, one at the power pack end to protect the pump, another may be fitted onto a control valve circuit to relieve an induced load caused by external mechanical forces. If a hydraulic cylinder requires different relief valve settings on it full bore or annulus side then a dual relief valve module can be set to handle these needs. On the annulus side the area the oil is acting upon is smaller requiring higher pressures to exert the same force as the full bore side hence two relief valve settings are needed. One example of this is a hydropower generation sluice gate operation where something jammed in the gate such as log stops it closing.
Some terms associated with relief valve operation:
Overshoot: The pressure reading when a relief valve operates to bypass fluid. (It can be two times the actual setting.)
Hysteresis: The difference in pressure when a relief valve starts spilling some flow (cracking pressure) and when full flow is passing.
Stability: pressure fluctuation as the relief valve is bypassing at its set pressure.
Reseat pressure: The pressure a relief valve closes at after it has been operating.
Counterbalance valves are fundamentally a relief valve that is fitted in an application to generate back pressure in a system. They are normally used for ‘counterbalancing’ a load to stop it from running away during lowering. The valve is usually set at 30 percent higher than the pressure induced by the load.
Figure 1 Counterbalance valve circuit.
A built in check valve allows flow in the reverse direction (i.e. to by-pass the counterbalance valve when lifting the load). It should be noted that both sides of the valve will be subjected to full pressure, this is not possible on all relief valve designs. In Figure 1 the counterbalance valve has an integral check valve. When counterbalancing the return path must have a low back pressure to tank, as this will be additive to the valve setting.
If you’re in a situation where you need to determine the integrity of a piston seal in a cylinder, then you will be required to intensify the pressure inside that cylinder. Those that are well experienced and have deep knowledge of such tasks, will find that it’s a fairly safe test to run, however, if you don’t then it can be very dangerous.
What contributes to making this test a dangerous activity? It’s down to the imbalance of the force produced by the rod sides and the piston. Force is the result of product X area. So if the cylinder’s rod side has 50% of the area of the piston side, then it’s going to produce 50% of the force of the piston side but with the equal pressure. If the pressure on the piston side goes to 2000 PSI then the rod side will be forced to produce 4000 PSI for an equal force. A force of this intensity produced in a cylinder that is rated for 2000 PSI can have catastrophic consequences.
On occasion, if the conditions are cold, there might even be a blockage sat between the tank and the rod side of the cylinder. As a result of the oil not being able to flow due to cold weather, this can increase the pressure to be far too much for the design. It will result in the gland blowing out of the hydraulic cylinder.
This can be a potentially dangerous situation. Without carefully considering what the result might be of increasing pressure in a double-acting hydraulic cylinder, it can result in a very costly error. Something that can not only cost downtime but finances and possibly be physically dangerous to operators.
In summary, beware of the dangers of pressure intensification in cylinders. No job is worth doing if you aren’t kept safe and protected. Any person who is responsible for the safe running of hydraulic systems should take relevant training.
Electrostatic charge builds when there are two bodies moving and creating friction. The fact is that this also occurs in hydraulic systems from the friction caused by system components with moving fluid.
Although we haven’t had a lot of situations that have involved electrostatic discharge, it is still something that every engineer should be aware of.
When an electrostatic discharge occurs, there is a clicking noise as charge increases and is then released. This is something that will often occur in a filter – leaving burn marks and potentially other damage.
With the increasing preference of using non-metallic additives in hydraulic oils the electrostatic charge could be on the increase. Those hydraulic oils that contain anti-wear additives that are zinc-based have considerably high conductivity.
Conductivity in hydraulic oils helps when it comes to moving electrostatic charge around the system. Although zinc-based additives will rarely collect enough charge to cause a big problem, synthetic oils can. This is because they have less conductivity and therefore will potentially accumulate more charge before discharging it.
Another change that could lead to an increase in electrostatic discharge is that there has been a change made to the materials that filter elements are made of. In order to make them easier to dispose of them in an eco-friendly way, they have more non-metallic material in the design, which lowers conductivity and therefore increases the capacitance.
The manufacturers of hydraulic filters are aware of these issues, and are looking into how they can minimise or even eliminate these issues.
However, if you come across a situation where there is electrostatic discharge in the meantime, then consider this:
By adding larger filter elements you can reduce flow density and therefore the amount of charge that is being generated. You might also want to consider increasing the tank size so that the time between charge generations increases.
This is one of the reasons why you shouldn’t skimp on tank size or on filter capacity.
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