Hydraulic machines are machinery and tools that use liquid fluid power to do simple work. Heavy equipment is a common example.
In this type of machine, hydraulic fluid is transmitted throughout the machine to various hydraulic motors and hydraulic cylinders and which becomes pressurised according to the resistance present. The fluid is controlled directly or automatically by control valves and distributed through hoses and tubes.
The popularity of hydraulic machinery is due to the very large amount of power that can be transferred through small tubes and flexible hoses, and the high power density and wide array of actuators that can make use of this power.
Hydraulic machinery is operated by the use of hydraulics, where a liquid is the powering medium.
Hydraulic pumps supply fluid to the components in the system. Pressure in the system develops in reaction to the load. Hence, a pump rated for 5,000 psi is capable of maintaining flow against a load of 5,000 psi.
Pumps have a power density about ten times greater than an electric motor (by volume). They are powered by an electric motor or an engine, connected through gears, belts, or a flexible elastomeric coupling to reduce vibration.
Common types of hydraulic pumps to hydraulic machinery applications are;
An exploded view of an external gear pump.
- Gear pump: cheap, durable (especially in g-rotor form), simple. Less efficient, because they are constant (fixed) displacement, and mainly suitable for pressures below 20 MPa (3000 psi).
- Vane pump: cheap and simple, reliable. Good for higher-flow low-pressure output.
- Axial piston pump: many designed with a variable displacement mechanism, to vary output flow for automatic control of pressure. There are various axial piston pump designs, including swashplate (sometimes referred to as a valveplate pump) and checkball (sometimes referred to as a wobble plate pump). The most common is the swashplate pump. A variable-angle swashplate causes the pistons to reciprocate a greater or lesser distance per rotation, allowing output flow rate and pressure to be varied (greater displacement angle causes higher flow rate, lower pressure, and vice versa).
- Radial piston pump: normally used for very high pressure at small flows.
Piston pumps are more expensive than gear or vane pumps, but provide longer life operating at higher pressure, with difficult fluids and longer continuous duty cycles. Piston pumps make up one half of a hydrostatic transmission.
Directional control valves route the fluid to the desired actuator. They usually consist of a spool inside a cast iron or steel housing. The spool slides to different positions in the housing, and intersecting grooves and channels route the fluid based on the spool's position.
The spool has a central (neutral) position maintained with springs; in this position the supply fluid is blocked, or returned to tank. Sliding the spool to one side routes the hydraulic fluid to an actuator and provides a return path from the actuator to tank. When the spool is moved to the opposite direction the supply and return paths are switched. When the spool is allowed to return to neutral (center) position the actuator fluid paths are blocked, locking it in position.
Directional control valves are usually designed to be stackable, with one valve for each hydraulic cylinder, and one fluid input supplying all the valves in the stack.
Tolerances are very tight in order to handle the high pressure and avoid leaking, spools typically have a clearance with the housing of less than a thousandth of an inch (25 µm). The valve block will be mounted to the machine's frame with a three point pattern to avoid distorting the valve block and jamming the valve's sensitive components.
The spool position may be actuated by mechanical levers, hydraulic pilot pressure, or solenoids which push the spool left or right. A seal allows part of the spool to protrude outside the housing, where it is accessible to the actuator.
The main valve block is usually a stack of off the shelf directional control valves chosen by flow capacity and performance. Some valves are designed to be proportional (flow rate proportional to valve position), while others may be simply on-off. The control valve is one of the most expensive and sensitive parts of a hydraulic circuit.