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.















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.

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.