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373

LINEAR CIRCUITS

OBVIOUS aim of hydraulic circuit design is to provide the functions required from
the system in an unambiguous way. It is equally important that the efficiency of the circuit
should be as high as possible. This principally involves a match of pump flow and/or
pressure to be as close as possible to the circuit requirements at any instant. is also
preferable to avoid any potential sources of excessive fluid friction and pressure drop. At
the same time components must be 'protected' where necessary.
The majority of the circuits described in this chapter give a fixed configuration to
perform specific tasks and give appropriate solutions to a variety of circuit control
requirements. There are also many proportional and electro-hydraulic circuit solutions to
fulfil these requirements but with greater flexibility to adapt to provide solutions to other
tasks with the same hardware. The examples quoted here are all based on linear circuits,
with an hydraulic cylinder as the output actuator. Many of the ideas are also appropriate
for rotary actuator output in either the semi-rotary or motor form.

Directional control of movement


The control of travel direction, extend or retract, is the most basic requirement in linear
circuits. The DCV (directional control valve) used for this has only an on/off function and
cannot modulate the amount of flow. The DCV function can be performed either with a
spool valve or a combination of poppet valves.

Single acting cylinders


Single acting cylinders may be extended with hydraulic flow but require another source
of force to provide movement in the retract direction. Basic control circuits for a single-
acting cylinder are shown in Figure 4.1.1, using 2- or 3-way, 2-position valves (DCV).
Figure 4.1.1 a also shows some common alternative means to operate the valve to extend
the piston with a spring return action. The cylinder is also sprung loaded to retract, whereas
in Figures 4.1.1 band c, an external force is required a gravity load. If the piston needs
to be held in an intermediate position, then a 3-way selector valve with 3-positions must
be used as shown in Figure 4.1.2. This could be substituted in the circuits for both Figure
4. 1.1a and b but not that of Figure 4.1.1c.
position is required, as in Figure 4.1.3, or a 4-way, 3-position selector (DCV) for
intermediate hold as in Figure 4.1.4. It should be noted that the flows either side of the
piston will not be the same but in the ratio of the piston and annulus areas.
If the main control valve is a spool design then further refinement of the circuits above
may be necessary if the piston has to be held in position under load for long periods because
of cross-port leakage in the valve. Check valves (pilot opened) could be included to hold
a position. Alternatively these control functions could be carried out by using pilot
operated poppet valves throughout, as shown in Figure 4.1.5. Since poppets are positive
seating valves they give the necessary sealing and if the pilot operation allows (four
independently controlled) they may be switched to give alternative sequencing depending
on the requirements.

Simple speed control of cylinders can be realised with an adjustable restrictor or flow-
control valve in either the supply or exhaust line as shown in Figure 4.1.6. Speed control
is effective for both directions of motion but forward and return velocities will vary in
relation to the different effective piston areas and the load pressure across the piston
determining the restrictor pressure drop.
If the restrictor is placed in the return line after the directional-control valve, the piston
is 'braked' between the supply and the return line pressure, preventing the piston running
away. This is called meter-out control. Meter-in speed control, Figure 4.1.6b, can be used
where the cylinder is always under load on the controlled stroke. If the load is highly
variable or has a tendency to run away, then meter-out speed control is generally preferred.
Speed control can be applied to either the extend or retract stroke, the metering valve being
on the appropriate 'in' or 'out' line respectively. However, meter-out control on the rod
side can lead to very high pressures occurring as a result of the pressure intensification
effect of the piston areas. Figure 4.1.7 shows a combined throttle and check valve giving
meter-out control for the retract stroke and free flow in extend. The flow through the valve
and hence piston speed will still be dependent on the pressure drop across the metering
orifice, and if the load is changing this may not be satisfactory. The use of a pressure
compensated flow control will overcome this since a constant pressure drop is automati-
cally maintained across the metering orifice.

These straightforward control systems suffer from relatively high energy losses (and
high fluid heating) since the pump is operating at maximum pressure all the time and
excess flow is discharged through the relief valve. Such losses can be minimised by
adopting bleed-off or by-pass speed control .
In the bleed-off circuit in Figure 4.1.8, the throttle valve is located in the line to the
cylinder, by-passing to the reservoir. This valve is significant only when that particular
line is pressurized, and in this case all throttling losses are linked to this bleed flow and the
pump pressure determined by the load. The main disadvantage of such a system is that flow
control (speed control) is indirect and will vary as the actual pressure drop across the
restrictor varies with load. For this reason the by-pass flow control (sometimes called 3-
way flow control) valve of Figure 4.1.9 is commonly preferred where losses are to be
minimised. A variable restrictor is used in the main line to sense the flow rate and the by-
pass flow set accordingly to maintain a constant pressure drop across the restrictor.

This gives the same positive speed control as meter-in or meter-out. Both the bleed-off
and by-pass circuits are basically meter-in systems. They would have no effect on cylinder
speed if connected to the exhaust line from the cylinder. They can only be used where a
single service is being operated at one time since the pump pressure is set by the load and
can only take one value.

Rapid-motion valves
Rapid-motion valves are designed to provide a change-over between rapid and slow
forward motion automatically as piston load increases. One possible circuit is shown in
Figure 4.1.10, where at low pressure both sides of the cylinder are connected together by
the rapid motion valve. This uses the return flow from the rod side in addition to the pump
flow to give a high speed but with a lower force capability since the pump pressure acts
on the differential piston area. After a pre-determined pressure has been reached the
control piston of the rapid-motion valve switches to the through-flow position and full
pressure is applied to give the piston working stroke at the pump flow. This through flow
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position must be maintained to retract the piston. There are various possible modes of
working depending on the rapid-motion port inter-connections.
Synchronisation
When two or more cylinders are connected in parallel to the same selector, the cylinder
with the lighter load will move first, the pump flow always finding the easier lowest
pressure path. When the first cylinder has completed its stroke the next lightly loaded
cylinder will then start to move, and so on. Even if the loads are meant to be equal they
are never likely to be exactly so, and this form of sequential motion will always occur.
Synchronisation of cylinders can be achieved mechanically (very rigid structure), electri-
cally (with feedback to electro-hydraulic valves), or hydraulically by suitable circuit
design. Only hydraulic synchronisation will be considered here.
Where the cy linder loads do not differ appreciably, satisfactory synchronisation may be
achieved simply by incorporating restrictors in each of the cylinder lines, adjusted to
provide synchronous speeds of operation as in Figure 4.1.11. The accuracy of synchroni-
sation obtained depends on the loads remaining constant and even then may not be good.

Series connection of cylinders is another simple method of synchronisation which


offers an improved degree of synchronisation. The alternati ve connection possibilities are
shown in Figure 4.1.12. It is best if the cy inders are both of the through-rod type, otherwise
synchronisation will only be achieved if the differential (annular) area of the first piston
is equal to the full piston area of the second cylinder. A basic limitation with this
arrangement is that each cylinder in the system must be proportionally smaller in size.
Better synchronisation of two equal-size single-rod cylinders is possible if one cylinder
is retracting when the other is extending as in Figure 4.1.12c.
Synchronisation can also be achieved with flow dividers and two typical circuits are
shown in Figure 4.1.13. In all such circuits, even if they are initially synchronised quite
accurately, progressive loss of synchronisation will develop due to internal leakage. It is
thus necessary to include some method of re-synchronisation in the circuit. This can be
manual, via two additional valve positions enabling each cylinder to be bottomed-out in
turn, or automatic. An automatic re-synchronization circuit is shown in Figure 4.1.13b.
Here the cylinders are synchronised at the end of each stroke when the mid position is
selected.
380 THE HYDRAULIC HANDBOOK

operating at the lower load and, being mechanically coupled, provide equal flow in each
cylinder line. Additional restrictors switched across each motor permit flow to pass once
one cylinder has bottomed-out, thus allowing the cylinders to re-synchronise at the end of
stroke.

Pressure control
There are a number of pressure control valve options which are beneficial in linear circuits.
Figure 4.1.15 shows the use of a pressure reducing valve to limit the maximum pressure
experienced at the second cylinder. It should be remembered that deriving large flows via
a reducing valve is not to be recommended because of the inherent inefficiency as a result
of the pressure drop across the reducing valve itself.

The other widely used pressure control valve is the combination of check and relief
valve known as a counterbalance valve. Figure 4.1.16 shows two counterbalance valves
with remote pilot operation of the check stage. In normal operation from the DCV the
check valves are both opened allowing free flow in both directions. If there is a change in
the direction of the action of an extemalload, such as might occur if a linkage goes over-
centre, then the cylinder might have to restrain the movement. When this occurs the
LINEAR CIRCUITS 381

pressure on the drive side will fall and the piloted check valve will close; if extending in
the figure then the pressure at A falls when the load starts to pull and the check valve on
the rod side will shut. The load must then work against the pressure set on the relief valve
to continue to move and this gives a braking effect.
This circuit also provides a useful function when a load with considerable momentum
is brought to rest at an intermediate position. This momentum might arise from the load
speed or its mass or their combination. If such a load is brought to rest very suddenly when
a DCV is shut, then excessive pressures might result. In the circuit shown a high pressure
on either side of the piston will cause the relief valve to open and limit the pressure rise.
The load will over-run but no damage will occur. Note that it is also necessary to provide
flow into the other side of the cylinder when this over-run occurs to prevent cavitation or
aeration. This is achieved with the check val ve function provided there is a source of flow
available as with the open centre valve.

Sequencing
A common requirement is for two or more cylinders to operate in a pre-determined
sequence to ensure one motion is complete before the next starts. There are various ways
in which this can be done. If the sequences are relatively straightforward then mechanical
sequence valve switches or pressure sensing valves can be used. Figure 4.1.17a shows a
single flow-sequencing circuit which provides for both cylinders to extend simultaneously
but delays retraction of the upper cylinder until the lower has completed its retraction
stroke and operated the sequencing valve via the mechanical trip. The sequencing valve
could be placed in the return line, instead of the forward line to the upper cylinder, the

upper cylinder would then be locked in the extended position until released by retraction
of the lower.
A simple system of double-sequencing is shown in Figure 4.1.17b, again with the
sequencing valves in the forward flow lines. This would allow, for example, a sequence
operation of undercarriage doors opening and closing, with under-carriage retracting and
extending. Again the sequencing valves could control return flow rather than forward flow
for positive (hydraulic) locking of one cylinder.
Pressure sensing sequencing circuits avoid the mechanical and hydraulic connections
necessary for the above circuits. However, they are more prone to malfunction if an
unexpected 'high' pressure trips the sequence prematurely. Two examples are shown in
Figure 4.1.18 to give the operation of a second cylinder once pressure on the first has
reached the preset level. This need not correspond to a fixed position of the first cylinder.
More complex multiple sequencing is usually more conveniently controlled by electri-
cal switches operating solenoid valves or via a PLC. Mechanical sequencing may be
preferred, when mechanical locks can readily be incorporated as part of the system rather
than as separate items.

Energy efficient pump circuits


There are a number of techniques which can be used with basic fixed displacement pumps
to improve energy efficiency. There is also always the option to use a pressure compen-
sated variable displacement pump if more appropriate.
A simple circuit which uses twin pumps to match the combination of high flow at low
pressure with low flow at high pressure is shown in Figure 4.1.19. The lower pressure
pump is automatically off-loaded to tank when the system pressure reaches the unloading
valve setting. The remaining pump will deliver its flow to the system until the main relief
valve setting is reached. In a typical sequence the piston will move with high speed until
the load begins to increase and the LP pump is off-loaded.
If the product of total flow at the unloading pressure is the same as the product of the
HP pump flow at the relief pressure then the system will be matched in power terms to the
pump driver attwo conditions. This idea can be extended to three or even four pumps using
different unloading valve settings.
Accumulators can also be used for energy saving and a basic circuit is shown in Figure
4.1.20, where the accumulator is first charged by the pump and then the pump shuts down.
Circuit pressure is supplied from the accumulator until the pressure drops to a predeter-
mined minimum, when the pump is cut in again. The control element used is a pressure
switch which senses the accumulator pressure and controls the electric motor switching.
This stop-start circuit can provide substantial savings in energy where the hydraul ic circuit
is used very intermittently.
Another energy-saving circuit is shown in Figure 4.1.21 where a 6-way, 3-position
selector valve allows the accumulator to pressurise the circuit with the selector in the
neutral position. This can provide 'hold' conditions for long periods, during which the
pump can be off-loaded as shown. In extreme cases it could be combined with the previous
circuit for intermittent duties i.e. the pump re-charging the accumulator during idle periods
and then being switched off by a pressure switch.