You are on page 1of 5

Frequently Asked Questions

Pilot-to-Open Check Cartridge Valves

Can I control the motion of a load with a pilot-to-open check valve?
A pilot-to-open check valve is a load holding valve, not a motion or load control valve. It is not
capable of dissipating energy in a controlled fashion. A pilot-to-open check valve is either open or
closed, it does not modulate. If you try to use a pilot-to-open check valve to control an over-
running load, a severe unstable movement of the actuator is likely to occur.

How do I know how much pilot pressure is required to open a pilot-to-open check valve?
Pilot pressure (port 3) for a pilot-to-open check valve is directly proportional to the load pressure (port
1). . . the higher the load pressure the more pressure it takes to pilot it open. To calculate the pressure
required to release a load, use the following equations. These equations are under ideal conditions and
do not consider any backpressure in the circuit.

1. Pilot check on the blind end of the cylinder with a load retracting the cylinder rod.

2. Pilot check on the rod end of the cylinder with a load extending the cylinder rod.

Note: It should be noted that the systems will self-lock when the rod diameters are large relative to the
cylinder bore and cylinders are loaded to extend. Instead use a counterbalance valve.

Sun Hydraulics Corporation FAQ: Pilot-to-open Check 8/20/01 1

2. Pilot check on an equal area actuator.

What does pilot ratio refer to in a pilot-to-open check valve?

The pilot ratio is the ratio of the pilot piston area to the check poppet seat area, e.g. in a 3:1 pilot ratio
valve, the pilot piston area is 3 times the check poppet seat area.

What is the actual pilot ratio of Sun's pilot-to-open check valves?

Good question! We have never published this data. If you compare the area of the pilot piston to the as
manufactured area of the seat, the ratio of series 0 is true 3:1, the series 1, 3, and 4 are 4:1 and the
series 2 is 4.4:1.

In the beginning, the valve of choice was the Delrin seated valve and because of the compliance of the
seat, the ratio went down as the pressure went higher and the poppet sank into the seat. Eventually the
seat will take a set and the ratio will also be less at lower pressures. Everything lowers the ratio, even
wear and tear on the steel seat. The springs in the valve lower the ratio by a large amount at low
operating pressures (see the answer to the question on piloting with air).

The effective pilot ratio is always less than the area ratio. Understanding the pilot ratio of our pilot-to-
open checks leads to more robust circuits.

Other companies make high ratio pilot operated checks, why doesn't Sun?
Our configuration does not lend itself to high ratios. We can't make the pilot piston bigger so the only
way would be to make the seat smaller. A smaller seat closes the flow path around the poppet stem and
we lose capacity, quickly. Besides, we have a solution. . . . . . use a counterbalance valve.

What about intensification?

Pilot-to-open check valves on the rod side of a cylinder may be a problem because intensification
could increase rod side pressure above design limits. Cylinders with large rods may intensify rod end
pressure past the point where blind end pressure is enough to pilot the valve open. Use the equations
above. For example, the application is a retract-to-clamp cylinder with a blind end area to rod end area
ratio of 2:1. Clamping pressure is 2000 psi (140 bar). If the pilot-to-open check has a pilot ratio of 3:1,
it would take more than 2000 psi (140 bar) to pilot the check open, at this point the rod end pressure
has climbed to 6000 psi (420 psi).

What should I do if I need load holding on the rod of a high ratio cylinder?
Use a counterbalance valve. In the above example the pressure needed to extend the cylinder would be
less than 200 psi (14 bar).

What ever happened to the Delrin seated valves?

Nothing, they are still available, we just removed them from the catalogue and stopped promoting
them. After years of experience, testing and engineering we came to the conclusion that they are best

Sun Hydraulics Corporation FAQ: Pilot-to-open Check 8/20/01 2

suited for moderate pressures, 2000-3000 psi (140-210 bar). If the seat is soft enough to conform at
low pressures, it is too soft to stand up to today's higher operating pressures and flows.

If you have a dirty, medium pressure system that does not experience high flows or temperatures and
you require very low leakage rates, you may want to consider the soft-seated valves. One piece of hard
debris can make a steel seat leak. A soft seat is able to ingest a lot of contamination before it starts to
leak. However, one piece of debris can cause the soft seat to leak at low pressures.

Originally, we had a tighter leakage specification on soft-seated valves. However, when we made the
decision to promote the steel seated valves instead of soft seats, we tightened the leakage specifications
of the steel seat valves to match.

Where should I mount pilot-to-open check valves in my system?

Generally, pilot-to-open check should be mounted as close to the actuator as possible to provide
maximum protection in the event of hydraulic hose or line failure. Sun offers many mounting
configurations that will accomplish this. Additionally, these cartridges can be installed directly in the
actuator by machining a cavity in the actuator housing.

What happens to the pilot-to-open check valve if I have back pressure in my system?
Backpressure at port 2 (inlet) directly opposes pilot pressure, effectively increasing the amount of
pressure required to open the valve. If the backpressure is flow related (as in a meter-out flow control)
the result could be a severe unstable movement of the actuator. Using vented load holding valves will
prevent this problem.

Can I use a 3 port vented pilot-to-open check valve instead of the 4 port version to save
on plumbing?
3 port vented pilot-to-open, or atmospherically referenced, check valves are considered problem
solvers for existing circuits that used a non-vented valve. If a vented valve is required in a new design,
4 port valves are recommended. Atmospherically referenced valves may leak externally and pose a
threat for intrusion of moisture (and resulting corrosion) in the spring chamber even though the spring
chamber is sealed.

Vented pilot-to-open check valves are insensitive to pressure on the valve port (port 2),
aren't they?
Not exactly. The old vented check that had the pilot port in the end of the hex body and vented out port
3, had what we call a proportional pressure reducing feature. The poppet stem was exposed to the
vented area and the stem area was about 1/4 of the area of the poppet seat. The result was that you
could only develop 75% of the pressure at the actuator. If system pressure was 3000 psi (210 bar), the
highest pressure at the actuator was about 2250 psi (155 bar). The part numbers for the old style valves

Sun Hydraulics Corporation FAQ: Pilot-to-open Check 8/20/01 3

In our 1992 reference catalogue we introduced a new design of vented pilot-to-open check valves,
eliminating the proportional pressure reducing feature, to allow full system pressure at the actuator.
The pilot is now at port 3. This allows the vented counterbalances and the vented checks to share the
same manifolds. The new design incorporates more spring force to lessen the chance of false piloting
(see the answer to question on where to vent). The new design allows us to offer valves that are vented
out of a port in the hex body.

We do have new design valves that replace the old style (pilot in 3 and vent out the hex body). These
should be used with caution. If you are replacing the old style that had the pressure reducing feature
you will realize a 33% increase in actuator force. The part numbers for these are CKCI, CKEI, CKGI,
and CKII.

The venting of the new design is not entirely pure. There is an area exposed to the vent area that
opposes the poppet spring. Piloting a valve open is a very remote possibility but 450 psi (30 bar) in the
vent area could hold the poppet open.

Should I replace the pilot-to-open check valve if my cylinder is drifting or moving?

Sun pilot-to-open check valves with a metal to metal seat, when new, provide near zero leakage. If the
actuator is drifting, and you have determined it is a result of the valve, the metal seat in the valve may
have been damaged and it is recommended that a new valve be installed.

Can I use pilot-to-open check valves with paired cylinders?

Pilot-to-open check valves should not be used in paired cylinder circuits. The pilot pressure needed to
open a pilot-to-open check is proportional to the load it is holding. The valve with the least load will
open first, transferring the combined load to the second valve at more than double the pressure. Use
counterbalance valves instead. The pilot pressure to open a counterbalance valve is inversely
proportional to the load pressure. When one of the counterbalances opens first the load is transferred to
the other counterbalance and lowers the pilot pressure required. The valves cooperate and lower the
load with a minimum of load shift.

I want to use your pilot-to-open checks on air. Will they work?

Yes, but. . . our valves are meant to work with hydraulic fluids, they are not protected against the water
that is in compressed air. Corrosion is a real possibility.

Valves that have 30 psi (2 bar) cracking pressures or lower (Z, A, B, and C springs) have 2 springs in
them, one to close the poppet and one to return the pilot piston. The spring that returns the pilot piston
is worth about 30-35 psi (2-2.5 bar) of pilot pressure. The minimum pressure to pilot open a CKCB-
XCN (30 psi (2 bar) spring) is about 45 psi (3 bar).

To open a pilot-to-open check valve with 3000 psi (210 bar) at port 1, 1045 psi (70 bar) of pilot
pressure is required at port 3, this equates to a 2.9:1 effective pilot ratio. To open a pilot-to-open valve
with 30 psi (2 bar) at port 1, 55 psi (4 bar) of pilot pressure is required at port 3, this equates to a 0.55:1
effective pilot ratio.

What is the difference between pilot-to-open check valves with sealed pilots compared to
standard bleed through versions?
The standard, or bleed through, versions allow a small amount of leakage between port 3 (pilot) and
port 2 (inlet), which aids in purging air that can be trapped in the valve. Versions with sealed pilots
may be sluggish to close because of trapped air. All 4 port vented valves have a sealed pilot. On 4 port
vented valves, port 4 (vent) should never be blocked as seal weepage will eventually cause the valve to

Sun Hydraulics Corporation FAQ: Pilot-to-open Check 8/20/01 4

malfunction. 1 to 2 drops of oil pass into the vented spring chamber every 4000 cycles, this equates to
1 cubic inch/16 cc every 1 million cycles.

Where should a vented valve be vented?

It should be vented immediately downstream of the reason a vented valve is needed. Vented pilot
operated checks need the same amount of pilot pressure to open as a non-vented valve but once open
they require less than 100 psi (7 bar) of pilot pressure to stay open.

Study the two circuits below. In the one on the right, the load is free to move, the check is being held
open by normal tank line pressure that is seen as pilot pressure. The circuit on the right may work
correctly on start up and then fail when temperatures drop or return line filters get full. In the circuit on
the left the vent connection nullifies the tank line pressure seen at the pilot connection. The result is
zero effective pilot pressure.

The best place to vent a load holding valve is immediately downstream of the reason for needing a
vented valve. In these circuits the reason you need a vented valve is the meter-out flow control.

In the left circuit the pilot and vent see essentially the same pressure when the directional valve is in
the center position.

In the incorrect circuit the pressure drop of the return line check and filter are seen as pilot pressure and
may be enough to hold the check valve open. This condition also applies to atmospherically vented

Sun Hydraulics Corporation FAQ: Pilot-to-open Check 8/20/01 5