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Practice in System Design

Best practices in hydraulic system design

The following information consists of recommendations, advice and general rules regarding the design of hydraulic workholding systems. These tips apply to just about any system, and are a good starting point if you have questions about what products to use and how to apply them properly.

General design

Double-acting cylinders should always be used in applications where cycle time is critical. While the cylinders are designed with strong return springs, they may not consistently overcome the effects of long runs of tubing, orifi ces, and other restrictions. Double-acting cylinders help eliminate these effects.

Many hydraulic pumps are rated for substantial flow rates (10 gpm or more) that are far beyond the requirements of a hydraulic workholding system. While these pumps can be used, it is not recommended in general practice. Workholding cylinders are typically very small in comparison to the types of cylinders that these pumps were designed to operate. You will spend a great deal of time and money reducing the flow through the use of valving and still may not have an ideal system. Consider a separate hydraulic pump rated for less flow whenever possible.

Spool valves are very common and inexpensive, but also have their share of issues regarding use in hydraulic workholding systems. Spool valves are designed for use at much higher flow rates than those typically seen in workholding circuits. In fact the acceptable internal leakage in these valves is typically equal to the total amount of flow required for a small workholding circuit. And, the leakage will result in improper function and possible damage to many pumps designed for workholding systems.

Breather vents on cylinders are often overlooked. When you put oil into a single-acting cylinder and it begins to advance, the opposite side of the cylinder is filled with air. This air has to go somewhere. The breather vent provides this path. In turn, when the cylinder is retracting, and oil is leaving the cylinder, a vacuum is created and air needs to re-fill that opposite side of the cylinder. If the breather vent is located in an area that is subject to contamination from coolant, and chips, these items will also get pulled into the cylinder. Make sure the breather vent is plumbed to a clean location at all times.

Swing cylinders

The swing cylinders turn on a mechanical concept of a ball or a pin riding in a hardened groove. Trying to turn this too fast with a large heavy arm will result in enormous pressure on the ball or the pin, causing damage and eventually failure. A large arm also increases the amount of side load introduced into the cylinder. As the length of the arm increases, the allowable clamp load has to decrease accordingly. Follow the one-second rule: it should take at least one full second for the clamp arm to rotate and engage the part. Anything faster can result in damage.

Work supports

Work supports are rated based upon a somewhat constant load. Sharp vibrations from an interrupted cut or a large impact load (such as dropping a part on the fixture) will cause the work support to slip. Because of the design, once the work support has been subjected to a high impact load, it may no longer function. Be aware of this fact and limit impact loading wherever possible.

Manifold mounting

Manifold mounting of cylinders significantly decreases the amount of space required on a fixture. It also makes installation and service much simpler. Be sure to clean and de-burr all passages in the fixture manifold. Burrs can break loose over time and be ingested into the hydraulic cylinders, causing severe damage. If you have a long line of cylinders all in the same manifold, route the passages from the center out and use large diameters for the main feed line. The use of small passages everywhere in the manifold will cause drastic backpressures on single- acting circuits.

Be sure to include a passage for the breather vents where necessary. This passage should be routed to a large open area, not an enclosed cavity. Eventually, an enclosed cavity may fill up with chips and coolant and begin to work into the cylinders.