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“Bang-bang” is the term often used to describe basic directional-control valves. It refers to how the valves shift—from fully open to fully closed. This usually occurs in an instant, causing fluid to rapidly accelerate and decelerate. Under certain conditions, this can cause fluid hammer, which sounds like a hammer striking the hydraulic system from inside. Hence, shifting the valve from one position to another can produce a bang-bang sound.

A less informal term to describe these components is “discrete valves.” This term refers to how the valves operate: they shift from one discrete position to another, such as extend, retract, and neutral. Proportional valves, on the other hand, control direction and speed. In addition to shifting into discrete positions, they can shift into intermediate positions to control actuator direction, speed, acceleration, and deceleration.

Even more basic than the discrete directional-control valve is the digital (discrete) valve. As in digital electronics, digital valves operate either on or off. Whereas discrete valves generally use a spool to achieve two, three, or more positions, discrete valves use a plunger, poppet, or ball that seals against a seat. The advantage to this type of operation is that it provides a positive seal to prevent cross-port leakage.

Perhaps the simplest of all directional-control valves is the check valve, a specific type of digital valve. Basic check valves allow fluid to flow in one direction, but prevent fluid from flowing in the opposite direction. As with all fluid power components, directional-control valves can be represented by standard symbols published in ISO 1219-2:2012. Figure 1 shows a cross-section of a spring-loaded check valve and its ISO 1219-2 representation.

Spool valves

The most common sliding-action valve is the spool-type valve. Fluid is routed to or from the work ports as the spool slides between passages to open and close flow paths, depending on spool position. Spool valves readily adapt to many different spool-shifting schemes, which broadens their use over a wide variety of applications.

Many mobile applications require metering or throttling to enable the operator to slowly or gently accelerate or decelerate a load. In these instances, the spool may be modified with V notches, for example, so that a small displacement of the spool gradually permits increasing or decreasing fluid flow to gradually speed or slow actuator and load movement. This technique is also used in valves for industrial equipment. A beveled or notched edge on the spool is commonly referred to as a soft-shifting feature.

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