Fluid power cylinders

Approximately 85% of fluid power circuits incorporate some form of cylinder (or linear actuator). The cylinder converts pneumatic or hydraulic pressure into thrust to perform useful work. Both air and hydraulic cylinders come in ram, telescoping, single-acting/spring-return, double-acting, double rod end, rodless, and tandem types. Figure 6-1 shows the symbols for several of these types. Each machine has specific requirements that challenge the designer to determine which type of actuator to use.

Figure 6-1. Some representative cylinder symbols . . . using the “complete symbols."

Throughout this manual, many circuits show cylinders in a variety of applications. An explanation accompanies each example – noting the pumps, valves, and peripheral hardware used to do the work. Every design description also attempts to cover the limitations of a particular circuit and show other ways to perform the same task. This section covers several types of cylinder applications that do not fall under a particular heading.

Normally air cylinder circuits are less expensive than hydraulic circuits because there is no need for a power unit. An air compressor usually is part of the plant facility and compressed air is a commodity similar to electrical power. However, the cost of operating an air-powered machine may be four to seven times more than a hydraulically operated one.

Another disadvantage of air is the fluid’s compressibility. Hydraulic circuits are very rigid, while air circuits are quite spongy. This lack of control makes it almost impossible to accurately stop and hold an air cylinder in mid-stroke with standard air valves alone. After an air cylinder stops, it may start creeping or be forced out of position almost immediately.

When it comes to brute force, air cylinders fall far behind hydraulic cylinders because they normally operate only at 80 to 100 psi. Getting high force from low pressure requires large areas . . . with attendant large valves and piping. A general rule might be to look at hydraulics when an operation requires a 5-in. bore or larger air cylinder to develop the required force. However, another factor is how often the cylinder must cycle. Air circuits with very low cycle rates and long holding times could be more economical than hydraulics, but the faster the cycle time, the more it costs to operate an air cylinder. Another consideration is the operating environment. Around food or medicine, potential contamination from hydraulic oil could be a serious problem. Look at each application to see which fluid system best suits it.

Sizing hydraulic cylinders

Chart 6-1 provides an exercise in sizing a simple, single-cylinder hydraulic circuit with straightforward parameters. The example covers the basic requirements for sizing a hydraulic cylinder to power a specific machine.

Of course, in the real world of circuit design, experience, knowing the process, the environment, the skill of the user, how long will the machine be in service, and other items will affect cylinder and power unit choices.

Before designing any cylinder circuit it is necessary to know several things. The first is the required force. Usually, the force to do the work is figured with a formula. In instances where there is no known mathematical way to calculate force, use a mock-up part on a shop press or on a prototype machine to estimate the force requirements. If all else fails, an educated guess may suffice. (The sample problem in the chart requires a force of 50,000 Llb.)

The second requirement is the total cylinder stroke. Stroke length is part of machine function, but it is needed to figure pump size. Use a stroke of 42 in. in this problem.

Third, how much of the stroke requires full tonnage? If only a small portion of the stroke needs full force, a hi-lo pump circuit and/or a regeneration circuit could reduce first cost and operating cost. This cylinder requires full tonnage for the complete 42-in. stroke.

Fourth, what is the total cylinder cycle time? Make sure the time used is only for cycling the cylinder. While load, unload, and dwell are part of the overall cycle time, they should not be included in the cylinder cycle time when figuring pump flow. Use a cylinder cycle time of 10 seconds for this problem.

Finally, choose maximum system pressure. This is often a matter of preference of the circuit designer. Standard hydraulic components operate at 3000 psi maximum, so choose a system pressure at or below this pressure. If the company that will operate the machine has operating and maximum pressure specifications, adhere to them. Remember that lower working pressures require larger pumps and valves at high flow to get the desired speed.

In the example in Chart 6-1, the square root of the maximum thrust, divided by the maximum system pressure, divided by 0.7854 gives a minimum cylinder bore of 5.641 in. Obviously, a standard 6-in. bore cylinder should suit this system.

To figure pump capacity, take the cylinder piston area in square inches, times the cylinder stroke in inches, times 60 seconds, divided by the cycle time in seconds, times 231 cubic inches per gallon. This indicates a minimum pump flow of 61.7 gpm. A 65-gpm pump is the closest standard flow available. Never undersize the pump because this formula figures the cylinder is going at maximum speed the whole stroke. In the real world, the cylinder must accelerate and decelerate for smooth operation, so travel speed after acceleration and before deceleration should actually be higher than this formula indicates.

Figure horsepower by multiplying flow in gpm by pressure in psi by a constant of 0.000583. This comes out to 75.79 hp . . . and is close to a standard 75-hp motor. This should provide sufficient horsepower because the system pressure does not have to go to 2000 psi with the cylinder size used.

The tank size should be at least two to three times pump flow. For the example, 3 X 63 equals 195 gallons. A 200-gal tank should be satisfactory. When using single-acting cylinders or unusually large piston rods, size the tank for enough oil to satisfy cylinder volume without starving the pump.

Sizing pneumatic cylinders

The procedure for sizing air cylinders is very similar to that for sizing hydraulic cylinders. One major difference: most plant air systems operate around 100 to 120 psi with approximately 80 psi readily available at the machine site. This gives little or no leeway for selecting operating pressure.

Also, because a compressor is part of the plant facilities, the number of cubic feet per minute (cfm) of air available for a single air circuit usually is many times that required. It is good practice though, to check for adequate flow capacity at the machine location.

The other items needed to design an air circuit are maximum force required, cylinder stroke, and cycle time. With this information, sizing cylinders, valves, and piping is simple.

To calculate the cylinder bore required, use the formula given at A in Chart 6-2. Notice the 1.25 multiplier on the force line. For an air cylinder to move at a nominal rate, it needs approximately 25% greater thrust than the force required to just offset the load. When the cylinder must move rapidly, provide a force up to twice that required to simply balance the load.

The reason for this added force can be illustrated by the example of filling an empty tank from a tank at 100 psi. When air first starts to transfer, the high pressure difference between the two tanks produces fast flow. As the pressures in the tanks get closer, the rate of transfer slows. The last 5 to 10 psi of transfer takes a long time. As the tank pressures get close to equal, there is less reason for transfer because the pressure difference is so low.

At a system pressure of 80 psi, if an air cylinder needs 78 psi to balance the load, there is only a 2-psi differential to move fluid into the cylinder. If the cylinder moves at all, the motion will be very slow and intermittent. If pressure differential increases – either from higher inlet pressure or lower load – the cylinder starts to move smoothly and steadily. The greater the differential, the faster the cylinder strokes. (Note that once cylinder force is twice the load balance, any increase in speed due to higher pressure is minimal.)

Substituting the 1.25 multiplier in the formula produces a cylinder bore of 1.72 in. minimum. Choose a 2-in. bore cylinder because it is the next standard size greater than 1.72 in.

To size the valve, use the flow coefficient (or Cv) rating formula. (The Cv factor is an expression of how many gallons of water pass through a certain valve . . . from inlet to outlet . . . at a certain pressure differential.) Valve manufacturers use many ways to report Cv and some may be confusing. Always look at the pressure drop allowed when investigating the Cv, to be able to compare different brands intelligently.

The formula indicates that a valve with 1/8-in. ports is big enough to cycle the 2-in. bore cylinder out 14 in. and back in 4 seconds.

There are many charts in data books as well as valve manufacturers’ catalogs that take the drudgery out of sizing valves and pipes. There are several computer programs as well to help in proper sizing of components.

Cylinder circuits with four positive stopping positions

To stop a cylinder stroke accurately at different points in its travel, use a hydraulic servo system. Particularly for constantly changing intermediate stopping positions, a servo system works best. However, with only one constant mid-stroke stopping point, the circuit shown in Figure 6-2 will work well. A pair of cylinders with different strokes is attached at their cap ends. (This arrangement might be as simple as two off-the-shelf cylinders with their cap end flanges bolted together. Many manufacturers furnish this cylinder arrangement as a unit, using long tie rods to make the mechanical connection.) Because the cylinders have different strokes, it is possible to stop the load accurately at four positions. For instance, if cylinder C has a 2-in. stroke and cylinder D has a 4-in. stroke, the positions are home, and two, four, and six inches from home. If both cylinders have the same stroke, the positions are home, half extended, and full extended.)

This positioning arrangement works the same with air or hydraulic circuits, and always requires two valves. Air cylinders might bounce at fast speeds, but would quickly settle at an exact position. Note that the cylinders also move, so use flexible lines and provide some way to guide the cylinders.

Figure 6-2 shows the circuit at rest. The valves could be double-solenoid (as shown), single-solenoid/spring-return, or spring-centered. The cylinders are both fully retracted, in Position #1.

Figure 6-2. Two cylinders mounted back-to-back for multiple positive stopping positions – at rest.

When valve A shifts, as in Figure 6-3, cylinder C strokes to Position #2. This position is always the same because the piston bottoms out against the cylinder’s head end. Adjusting the rod attachment can make slight position variations. Machine wear could make such adjustments necessary.

Figure 6-3. Two cylinders mounted back-to-back for multiple positive stopping positions – position 1.

In Figure 6-4, valve A shifts to retract cylinder C while valve B shifts to extend cylinder D . This accurately places the load in Position #3. Finally, both cylinders extend as shown in Figure 6-5, moving the load to Position #4.

Figure 6-4. Two cylinders mounted back-to-back for multiple positive stopping positions – position 2.
Figure 6-5. Two cylinders mounted back-to-back for multiple positive stopping positions – position 3.

After both cylinders extend fully, they can return to home or either of the mid-stroke positions as required. (The circuit designer might choose air logic or electrical controls, with palm buttons numbered one through four – to allow an operator to pick any cylinder position at any time.)

Using more than two cylinders can provide a greater number of stopping positions, but controlling more positions requires more circuitry. This still may be is less expensive than a servo system. Lower cost and easier maintenance may offset the greater versatility of a servo system in some applications.

Air or hydraulic tandem-cylinder circuits with three positive stopping positions

A tandem cylinder consists of two double-acting cylinders in one envelope. It has four fluid ports, and the piston rods may be attached or unattached, depending on the application. Most unattached-rod tandem cylinders have unequal strokes, while attached rod tandems have equal strokes. Some tandem cylinders have different bores, again depending on the need.

Figure 6-6 shows a rigidly mounted, unattached tandem cylinder in a multi-positioning circuit, with the cylinder and valving at rest. This circuit produces three positive positions. Note that the load must be resistive – or made that way with valving. Cylinder C has a 2-in. stroke and cylinder D has a 6-in. stroke. This combination gives a positive home position, plus two inches, and six inches extended. Valve A could be single-solenoid/spring-return or a double-solenoid detented (as pictured). Valve B must allow cylinder D to float – to avoid reducing the force of the stroke to Position #2.

Figure 6-6. Using unattached tandem cylinders for multiple positive stopping positions – at rest.

Shifting valve A, as shown in Figure 6-7, extends cylinder C through its full stroke, moving cylinder D and the load to Position #2. If travel speed is too fast and/or resistance is low, cylinder D may overshoot Position #2. If this occurs, add a flow control for air or a counterbalance valve for hydraulic service to offer resistance while cylinder C is stroking.

Figure 6-7. Using unattached tandem cylinders for multiple positive stopping positions – position 1.

To extend the tandem cylinder fully, valve B shifts, as in Figure 6-8, porting fluid to the cap end of cylinder D . Cylinder D then extends fully to Position #3. Positions #2 and #3 are positive. They will be rigid in a hydraulic circuit and typically spongy in an air circuit.

Figure 6-8. Using unattached tandem cylinders for multiple positive stopping positions – position 2.

To retract the load, both valves return to home position, Figure 6-9. Cylinder D retracts fully and also pushes cylinder C home. Vent cylinder C’s rod port to atmosphere if it is air operated, or drain the port to tank on a hydraulic cylinder.

Figure 6-9. Using unattached tandem cylinders for multiple positive stopping positions – cylinders retracting.

Assembling more than two cylinders this way creates more positive stopping positions when needed. Always make the first cylinder the one with the shortest stroke, with each added cylinder’s stroke longer.

Using tandem cylinders to increase force

On occasion, a cylinder already in service is undersized for a new material or product, and there is no room in its location for a larger-diameter cylinder. One way to produce more force is to use a tandem cylinder with the same bore and mounting dimensions as the original cylinder. A tandem cylinder almost doubles the force of the single cylinder. The tandem cylinder mounts exactly as before, with the same rod diameter and thread. The only dimensional difference is that the tandem cylinder is more than twice as long. (Normally an attached tandem cylinder is best for doubling force, although not in all cases.)

Figure 6-10 shows a tandem cylinder circuit that produces additional force on the extension stroke. Normally the retraction stroke needs minimal force, so vent or drain the rod side of the single-rod cylinder. Piped this way, fluid volume only increases on the extension stroke. With a 6-in. cylinder bore and a 2-in. rod diameter, the tandem cylinder’s force is 90% more than the original single cylinder.

Figure 6-10. Using tandem cylinders in increase force.

The circuit in Figure 6-11 uses an unattached tandem cylinder in a circuit that allows standard force or increased force as needed. For low force only, energize valve A. Oil volume and force are the same as in the original circuit. For almost double force, energize valves A and B.

Figure 6-11. Using tandem cylinders in increase force – dual force option #1.

The dual-force circuit in Figure 6-12 uses almost the same volume of oil as the single cylinder it replaces. Pipe directional valve A (supplied by the pump) to single rod-end cylinder D that is part of an attached tandem cylinder. When directional valve A shifts to extend the cylinder, oil flows to cylinder D. As cylinder D extends, it moves cylinder E. Cylinder E is fitted with a flow line from rod end to cap end through directional valve B. All the oil in cylinder E transfers to the opposite side of the piston, so the cylinder is full for the double-force portion of the stroke. Check valve C holds backpressure in the transfer circuit while cylinder E is moving and allows oil to flow to tank during the extra-force portion of the cycle. Extra force comes in when directional valve B shifts, sending oil to the push side of cylinder E’s piston and allowing the opposite end to flow to tank.

Figure 6-12. Using tandem cylinders in increase force – dual force option #2.

When changing to a tandem cylinder for extra force, always check the rod diameter for column strength. All manufacturers show maximum force capabilities for a given rod diameter. When rod size increases, maximum force decreases due to less area on the double rod end cylinder. When using an oversize rod, purchase it with an undersize thread rod so it attaches directly to the machine member without modification.

Caution: make sure the cylinder mounting can withstand the extra thrust. Most cylinder manufacturers' literature gives maximum force capabilities for a given mounting style. Because certain mounting styles have a lower pressure rating, a tandem cylinder may only accept slightly more than half the rated pressure. Change the mounting style if the reduced pressure generates too little force. Also, realize the extension speed of the double force portion of a tandem cylinder arrangement is approximately half the speed of a single cylinder.

Circuit with unmatched tandem cylinders for high speed and force

Many press applications require long strokes for loading parts with only a small portion of the stroke operating at high tonnage at the end. A 10-in. bore cylinder might be required for tonnage, while a 4-in. bore cylinder could provide all the force necessary to move to and from the work. Conventional circuitry often uses high volume at low pressure and high pressure at low volume for an application of this type. A regeneration circuit (Chapter 17 will cover regeneration circuits) could reduce the high-volume pump flow by half, but fast cycling still requires high flow.

Large cylinders with prefill valves and push back cylinders are one way to overcome the requirement for large fluid volumes. (Chapter 7 will explain decompression and prefill valves.) Due to their high cost, prefill valves normally are found only in circuits with 20-in. or larger bore cylinders.

The circuit in Figure 6-13 illustrates another way to operate at high speed for extension and retraction at low force, with high tonnage available at any point along the extension stroke. The unmatched tandem cylinder has attached piston rods so the small-bore cylinder can retract both the large-bore cylinder and the load. The small-bore cylinder needs only a small volume of fluid to extend and retract at high speed, while both cylinders can produce high tonnage.

Figure 6-13. Using an unmatched tandem cylinder for high speed and high force – at rest with pump running.

Energizing the extend solenoid on valve A in Figure 6-14 causes the small-bore cylinder to extend rapidly, in regeneration. This moves the large-bore cylinder and platen downward. As the platen lowers, oil in the large-bore cylinder transfers through valve B to the large-bore cylinder’s opposite end.

Figure 6-14. Using an unmatched tandem cylinder for high speed and high force – fast-forward mode.

When the load meets resistance or contacts a limit switch, Figure 6-15, valve B’s solenoid also energizes – sending pump flow to both cylinders. During this part of the cycle, speed slows and tonnage increases. (The large-bore cylinder transferred oil during the high-speed portion of the cycle to ready it for the high-force portion of the stroke.) During the high-force portion of the cycle, oil from the mounting end of the large cylinder returns to tank. Because the large bore cylinder exhausts during this part of the cycle, it receives fresh oil for every high-pressure stroke.

Figure 6-15. Using an unmatched tandem cylinder for high speed and high force – high-force mode.

To retract the cylinder at high speed, energize the retract solenoid on valve A, Figure 6-16. The pump retracts the small-bore cylinder, which also retracts the large-bore cylinder and platen. While the large-bore cylinder retracts, fluid in it again flows from end to end, so the cylinder stays full. Backpressure check valve C in the tank line keeps oil from draining to tank when it is lower than the cylinder.

Figure 6-16. Using an unmatched tandem cylinder for high speed and high force – fast-retraction mode.

Note externally drained pilot-operated check valve E at the rod end of the small-bore cylinder. With a running-away load, some means is needed to hold the cylinder in place while the circuit is at rest. This cylinder might free fall when the directional valve centers without some way to keep it from trying to regenerate. If the load is heavy, use an externally drained counterbalance valve to stop the pilot-operated check valve from chattering.

One potential problem with this arrangement is the length of the tandem cylinder. For long strokes, the more-than-double length of the tandem cylinder could cause height or length interference. Also, the rod size of the large-bore cylinder determines the smallest bore of the small cylinder. For example: if the double rod-end cylinder has a 10-in. bore with a 5-in. rod, then the smallest single-rod cylinder would require a 7-in. bore.

For the arrangement just shown and sized, the force at 3000 psi is approximately 292,000 lb. A pump flow of 30 gpm would result in a cylinder cycle time of about 15 seconds . . . with a 40-in. travel stroke and a 3/4-in. tonnage stroke.

Short closed height with double-length movement using two cylinders

Some machines need long strokes but lack space to mount long-stroke cylinders. Using telescoping cylinders is feasible for some applications, but high cycle rates usually eliminate them from consideration. Also, most telescoping cylinders are single-acting and depend on gravity or other outside forces to return them. Another drawback to telescoping cylinders is that the smallest-diameter ram must able to generate enough force to move the load. This means all other sections must be larger so they will need to be supplied with high flow for high speed.

Figures 6-17 and 6-18 show two air cylinders facing in opposite directions with their bodies attached side by side. This orientation makes the total stroke additive, while the retracted length is that of a single cylinder. (Assuming that both cylinders have a 20-in. stroke, the platen’s starting position in Figure 6-17 is about 20 inches lower with this arrangement than it would be with a single 40-in. stroke cylinder.) Many applications use standard NFPA-design cylinders in such an arrangement. With this circuit there is constant force and speed, compact mounting, and double-acting operation. The only special requirement is to specify valves that give smooth action and control. If the circuit used two directional valves, the platen could have three positive positions (if required). With different stroke lengths, these cylinders could stop the platen positively in four positions.

Figure 6-17. Using two cylinders for double stroke from half the height – both cylinders retracted.

Figure 6-18. Using two cylinders for double stroke from half the height – both cylinders extended.

Using a single valve for extra stroke only requires meter-out flow controls at each cylinder port for near-simultaneous movement. This arrangement works smoothly and eliminates jerking when the cylinders bottom out at different times.

With hydraulic cylinders, use a spool-type flow divider for simultaneous movement and closely synchronized end of stroke stopping. (Chapter 11 will cover flow divider circuits.)

Because both cylinder bodies move, use flexible fluid lines. Also, arrange to guide the platen or machine member to keep excess side-loading off the cylinders.

Side-by-side cylinder mounting does not work as well in high-force applications because the higher side-load forces will wear out bushings and cause premature seal leakage. The side-by-side configuration works best in low-force pneumatic applications.


Chapter 7: Why Decompression is Necessary in Hydraulic Systems

Why decompression is necessary in hydraulic systems

In high-pressure circuits with large-bore, long-stroke cylinders -- and the accompanying large pipes and/or hoses -- there is a good chance for system shock. In circuits with large components, when high-pressure oil rapidly discharges to tank, decompression shock results.

Decompression shock is one of the greatest causes of damage to piping, cylinders, and valves in hydraulically powered machines. The energy released during decompression breaks pipes, blows hoses, and can instantly displace cylinder seals. Damage from decompression shock may take time to show up because the energy released by a single shock may be small. After repeated shocks however, weaker parts in the circuit start to fail.

The potential for decompression shock is usually easy to determine beforehand and the design can be revised to avoid it. Shock from decompression normally occurs at the end of a pressing cycle when valves shift to stop pressing and retract the cylinder. The compressibility of the oil in the circuit, cylinder tube expansion, and the stretching of machine members -- all add to stored energy. The more energy stored, the worse the effects of decompression. Any time stored energy is a problem in a hydraulic system, a simple decompression circuit will add reliability and extend the system’s service life.

One type of decompression shock that is hard to overcome occurs when a cylinder builds tonnage, then breaks through the work. Because pressure is resistance to flow, once the resistance is removed, the oil expands and decompresses rapidly. Such is the case when punching holes in a part. Punching applications pose one of the worse shock conditions any hydraulic circuit meets. To help reduce this type shock, keep piping as short as possible and anchor it rigidly. Some manufacturers offer resisting cylinders that slow the working cylinder’s movement at breakthrough. These special cylinders may reduce or eliminate decompression shock.

Another type of shock occurs when oil flowing at high velocity comes to a sudden stop. This might happen when a cylinder bottoms out or when a directional valve shifts to a blocked condition. Whatever the cause, the effect is the same as trying to stop a solid mass moving at high speed. Use an accumulator or deceleration valve to control shock caused by a sudden flow stop. (See Chapter 1 on accumulators.)

The ensuing text describes applications where decompression shock might cause a problem. Also shown is the operation of some typical decompression circuits.

When using a decompression circuit, cycle time becomes longer. Instead of the cylinder immediately retracting after finishing its working stroke, there is a short delay while stored energy dissipates. (It may be possible to arrange to decrease cylinder traverse time to make up for decompression time.) In any case, the added cycle time, if necessary, will decrease down time and maintenance problems.

Press circuit without decompression

Figure 7-1 shows a schematic diagram for a typical medium- to large-bore cylinder without provision for decompression. A 50-in.-bore cylinder always needs a decompression circuit -- while cylinders with bores under 10 in. may get by without one. The main criteria are the volume and pressure of the stored fluid. The more high-pressure oil in a circuit, the greater the decompression shock. Long lengths of hose also cause and/or amplify decompression shock. It is best to install a decompression circuit when there is any chance it may be necessary. The expense of a decompression circuit is minimal and only adds to the cycle time if used.

Fig. 7-1. Press circuit without decompression protection – at rest with the pump running.

The circuit in Figure 7-1 has a directional valve with an all-ports-open center condition. The pump unloads to tank when the valve shifts to this center condition. The cylinder stays retracted because there is a counterbalance valve on the rod port.

In Figure 7-2 the cylinder is pressing at a working pressure of 2800 psi. The 10-in. bore by 40-in. stroke cylinder holds approximately 3141 in.3 of oil. Added to this is another 800 in.3 of oil is in the pipe between the valve and the cylinder’s cap end. At a compressibility of approximately 1/2% per thousand psi, and allowing another 1/2% per thousand psi for physical expansion of the cylinder and pipe, plus frame stretch, total volume expansion could be up to 1% per thousand psi. Multiplying (0.01) X (2800 psi) X (3941 in.3) indicates that there are approximately 110 in.3 of extra oil in the cylinder when pressing at 2800 psi.

Fig. 7-2. Press circuit without decompression protection – while extended cylinder is at full tonnage.

When the directional valve shifts to retract the cylinder, a large portion of the 110 in.3 of extra oil rapidly flows to tank. Every corner this fast moving fluid turns and every restriction it meets causes system shock. The shock only lasts a few milliseconds during each cycle but the damage accumulates. In a small system like this one, the shock may not be audible or give a noticeable jerk to the pipes. However each shock adds to the last one, and the damage eventually shows up in leaking fittings or broken machine members.

Press circuit with decompression

The circuit depicted in Figure 7-4 is the same as in Figures 7-1, 7-2, and 7-3, but a decompression circuit has been added. Also, the directional valve’s center condition has ports P, B, and T interconnected, while port A is blocked. A pressure switch and a single-solenoid directional valve (the decompression valve) are added to the basic circuit to make decompression automatic and adjustable. The cylinder is at full tonnage in Figure 7-4, ready for decompression before beginning to retract.

Fig. 7-3. Press circuit without decompression protection – cylinder just starting to retract.

Fig. 7-4. Press circuit with decompression protection – while extended cylinder is at full tonnage.

In this circuit, the signal to the retract solenoid on the directional valve passes through the normally closed contacts on the pressure switch. With a pressure switch setting of 350 psi, the retract solenoid will not be energized until pressure in the cap end of the cylinder lowers to that level and the contacts close. Set the shift pressure of the pressure switch high enough to shorten the decompression time as much as possible, yet still low enough to eliminate decompression shock.

In Figure 7-5, the extend solenoid on the directional valve has just been deenergized, and a 115-VAC signal to retract the cylinder is on, but is blocked at the pressure switch’s open contacts. The 115-VAC signal does go to the decompression valve’s solenoid and that valve shifts, opening a path to tank for any stored energy. Until pressure in the cap end of the cylinder deteriorates to the pressure switch setting, the cylinder sits still. The main flow of trapped oil in the cylinder is stopped at the directional valve’s blocked A port. This part of the cycle completely eliminates all shock damage -- although it does add to cycle time.

Fig. 7-5. Press circuit with decompression protection – while cylinder is decompressing.

Note the orifice in the line going to tank from the decompression directional valve. A fixed or adjustable orifice works equally well here. The orifice size determines the length of decompression time. If the orifice is too large, shock is less but may still be enough to cause damage. If the orifice is too small, there is no shock but cycle time may slow.

When pressure in the cylinder’s cap end drops to the pressure switch setting -- as in Figure 7-6 -- the pressure switch shifts to its normal condition. The normally closed contacts on the pressure switch pass a signal to the retract solenoid on the directional valve, and the cylinder retracts.

Fig. 7-6. Press circuit with decompression protection – while cylinder is retracting.

Large press circuit with prefill valve and decompression

On presses with large-bore cylinders or rams, oil compressibility is a problem. Another problem can be how to fill the ram as it approaches the work at high speeds and how to empty the ram when it retracts rapidly. The circuit in Figures 7-7 through 7--12 shows how to use a prefill valve to fill and empty a large ram. This type of prefill valve also can decompress the ram automatically without electrical controls.

Fig. 7-7. Press circuit with prefill and decompression valves – at rest with pump running.

Figure 7-7 shows the parts of a typical high-tonnage press. Small double-acting cylinders A (sometime called outriggers or pull-back cylinders) rapidly extend and retract the large ram. A small volume of oil cycles the outriggers for fast advance and return. Counterbalance valve B keeps the outriggers from running away and sequence valve C directs all fluid to the outriggers until the platen meets resistance. As the ram advances, vacuum opens prefill valve D, sucking fluid out of the tank to fill the large volume. Piloting the prefill valve open on retract first decompresses trapped oil, then allows free return flow to tank from the ram.

Figure 7-8 shows the cylinder extending toward the work. Pump flow to the outriggers A increases the rod-end pressure of these cylinders to open counterbalance valve B. When B opens, the platen starts forward and the ram pulls a vacuum in the cylinder tube. This vacuum sucks prefill valve D open and oil flows from the tank to fill the ram void. As the ram extends, the cylinder tube continues filling from the tank through D.

Fig. 7-8. Press circuit with prefill and decompression valves – ram extending in fast-forward mode.

When the platen meets resistance, forward movement stops and pressure increases in the outrigger cylinders, Figure 7-9. When the ram stops, prefill valve D closes and pressure build-up opens sequence valve C, oil from the pump flows to the ram and outriggers simultaneously. The press can develop full tonnage during this part of the cycle. Ram speed during full tonnage is relatively slow because the pump flow is low in relation to ram volume. However, the horsepower requirement is at a minimum while the overall cycle is fast.

Fig. 7-9. Press circuit with prefill and decompression valves – ram pressing.

The outrigger cylinders must produce enough force while retracting to raise the platen and ram, as well as to discharge the volume of oil displaced by the ram. If the outriggers have a 2:1 rod-area ratio, use a regeneration circuit on the forward stroke for faster speed or add a small pump.

Replacing the sequence valve with a normally closed 2-way directional valve allows the use of a limit switch to tell the ram to slow before contacting the work. Also, using a bi-directional pump to control direction, speed, acceleration, and deceleration is common for large cylinders on presses or some other machines.

When the press completes its work stroke and reaches full tonnage, Figure 7-10, it is ready to retract. Pressure in the circuit is 2800 psi and the trapped oil contains a large amount of stored energy. To retract the press, deenergize the directional valve’s forward solenoid and energize its retract solenoid. The sequence valve closes when the directional valve shifts, and fluid in the cap ends of the outrigger cylinders flows to tank.

Fig. 7-10. Press circuit with prefill and decompression valves – ram generating full tonnage.

Figure 7-11 shows the press in decompression mode. Fluid from the pump flows to the outrigger cylinders’ rod ends and to the pilot port of the prefill valve. A prefill valve operates almost the same as a pilot-operated check valve. Pilot pressure opens the flow poppet for reverse flow when needed. However, on a prefill valve, the ratio of the pilot-piston area to the flow-poppet area is the reverse of a normal pilot-operated check. Most pilot-operated check valves have 3 to 4 times more pilot-piston area than flow-poppet area. On a prefill valve, the pilot-piston area is only about 1/10th of the flow-poppet area. This reverse area ratio keeps the flow poppet closed until most of the backpressure against it dissipates. Another feature of the prefill valve is that inside the main poppet of the prefill valve is a smaller poppet. The area of this small poppet is only 1/16th the area of the pilot piston, so it opens easily -- even with high pressure trapped inside the ram. The flow capability of the small poppet gives a quick, smooth decompression when it is piloted open.

Fig. 7-11. Press circuit with prefill and decompression valves – ram decompressing.

As pressure builds on the rod sides of the outrigger cylinders, pressure in the pilot line to the prefill valve also increases. When pilot pressure is high enough to open the small poppet, decompression flow lowers pressure in the ram at a controlled rate. When ram pressure is low enough, pilot pressure opens the main prefill poppet. Low shifting pressure and flow of the inner poppet allows the prefill valve to meet most system requirements.

When the main prefill poppet opens, Figure 7-12, the ram freely retracts at high speed. Pump flow into the rod end volumes of the outrigger cylinders determines the ram’s retraction speed. The prefill valve allows fast ram movement in both directions of travel. This same prefill valve often has the option of automatic decompression as shown here. (Some manufacturers make prefill valves with large spools or sliding sleeves. They operate differently, but the end results are basically the same.)

Fig. 7-12. Press circuit with prefill and decompression valves – ram retracting rapidly.

Simple decompression for a single-cylinder circuit

Figures 7-13 through 7-16 depict a simple but effective decompression circuit for an application with a single valve and cylinder. There are no separate decompression valves to operate. This circuit can be adjustable and is easy to set up and maintain.

In Figure 7-13 the circuit is at rest. Pressure switch A keeps the directional valve from retracting the cylinder until a safe minimum pressure is reached. Check valve B blocks pump flow from the cylinder while retracting. Directional valve C unloads the pump, blocks main cylinder flow during decompression, and extends and retracts the cylinder. Adjustable or fixed orifice D controls decompression speed.

Fig. 7-13. Simple decompression circuit – at rest with pump running.

Figure 7-14 shows the cylinder meeting resistance and pressure increasing in the circuit.

Fig. 7-14. Simple decompression circuit – cylinder extended and generating full force.

To retract the cylinder, Figure 7-15, the extend solenoid is deenergized and a retract signal goes to the normally closed contacts of pressure switch A. (These normally closed contacts are open at this time because pressure in the cylinder cap end is well above the 350-psi setting.) Directional valve C shifts to its center position; the pump unloads; and trapped fluid decompresses through orifice D and check valve B. The pump-to-tank condition of tandem-center directional valve C allows decompression flow while centered. Decompression lowers pressure in the cylinder cap end quickly, without shock, until pressure reaches the setting of pressure switch A.

Fig. 7-15. Simple decompression circuit – cylinder decompressing.

When the contacts on the pressure switch close, they pass a signal to the retract solenoid on directional valve C. The valve shifts and the cylinder retracts as shown in Figure 7-16. This circuit requires no special electrical controls while eliminating decompression shock.

Fig. 7-16. Simple decompression circuit – cylinder retracting after decompression.

Another way to control the decompression portion of the cycle uses a time-delay relay. If the signal to retract comes from a time-on delay, set it for enough time to allow orifice D to decompress the cylinder before sending a retract signal to directional valve C. This type of control always gives an exact cycle time. Set the time long enough to make sure decompression takes place under any operating conditions. This usually makes the cycle longer than necessary, so it may not be a satisfactory arrangement for all machines.