In Hydraulic Symbology 101 (read it here first), I covered the basic square used for pressure valves and also showed the most stripped-down versions of the two most commonly used pressure valve symbols, the relief valve and the pressure reducing valve. In this edition of Hydraulic Symbology, I’m going to cover the four primary pressure valves; the relief valve, motion control valve, sequence valve and reducing valve. Each is based on the same square symbol but are used quite differently in both circuits and real-life function.
Shown below are the quartet referenced from the same angle as each other. Each shows the basic square with a vertical arrow, abreast of a pilot line to the left and a spring to the right. The dashed line stands for a pilot signal, which is a fluid column of pressure energy used to push or act upon other components internal to the valve. The relief valve is normally closed (non-flowing). As pressure rises in the bottom port, energy pushes around to the pilot line to the left, but the valve is still closed. As the pressure continues to increase, the force pushing against the left side of the arrow starts to overcome the spring force applied from the right. When pilot pressure creates enough force, it can overcome spring pressure to slowly open the valve.
Springs are drawn to signify force being applied inwards and in the case of these symbols that force is to the left. The relief valve spring can be set as weak or strong within its allowable range by loosening or tightening its screw adjustment. The weaker the spring compression, the easier pilot pressure can force open the valve. As previously mentioned, the diagonal arrow depicts adjustability, and most pressure valves are adjustable.
The below example shows a circuit with all four types of pressure valves used. It looks like a lot going on, but I’m going to break them all down one by one so they make sense. The relief valve teed into the right after the pump is drawn just as the relief valve above, and it operates under the same principle. The spring is pushing the valve closed with 3,000 psi of force, and in this circuit, it acts as the maximum limit pump pressure can achieve before being exhausted to tank.
Sequence valves are not much different from relief valves, and this is at once obvious by their similar appearance. This sequence valve downstream of the pump is exactly the same as the relief save for the drain line and reduced pressure setting. A sequence valve is purposed to provide a secondary flow path which occurs in sequence to a parallel function. In other words, when the cylinder in this application extends to the end of stroke, pressure will rise immediately. When pressure hits 2,000 psi, our sequence valve opens, diverting all pump flow to rotate the motor while the cylinder remains stalled and as long as its directional valve remains energized.
The sequence valve drain line is required to keep the valve’s performance consistent. Because the sequence valve experiences pressure on both ports, internal leakage allows pressure buildup inside the spring chamber which is additive to spring pressure. Without a drain, the pressure setting could rise or the valve could even lock up altogether. The key difference between a sequence valve and relief valve is the existence of this drain. A sequence valve makes an outstanding relief valve, in fact.
The pressure reducing valve is plumbed in just past the directional valve in the B-port. You’ll notice immediately how different this valve is than the others, and the extra astute will have noticed two differences, actually. The pilot line is drawn differently, this time showing its pressure signal originating downstream of the valve. This important contrast allows the valve to reduce downstream pressure to protect the actuator or sub-circuit beyond.
The reducing valve also differs in that it is normally flowing in its neutral state. Fluid is free to pass and allow the motor to spin, and not until downstream pressure from the motor rises to above the 1,700 psi setting of the valve does is start to close. The pilot line senses downstream pressure and starts to move the arrow to the right, choking flow to the motor. This reduced flow also reduces pressure, but it does so smoothly and with little drop in velocity. The effect is that downstream pressure is simply reduced.
You’ll notice in this example, there is also a check valve allowing flow to bypass the reducing valve altogether. This ensures the motor will experience little or no backpressure when it rotates in the opposite direction. Sometimes the reverse-flow check valve is not required, but it makes for good practice.
The last pressure valve to be discussed today is the motion control valve, which in my example is broken down into the brake valve and the counterbalance valve. The brake valve is used in motor applications as seen above. The valve is also very similar to the relief valve in design, and in fact, could still be used as one (as is the case for all pressure valve aside from the reducing valve). The reverse flow check valve allows free flow into the motor, allowing it to freely spin clockwise when the directional valve is left in its current detented position.
When the directional valve is reversed, however, the check valve blocks free flow and oil must now flow through the brake valve. This valve, you’ll notice, has two separate pilot lines merging at the same point on the valve. It has the same direct acting pilot line that rounds the corner, but there is an additional pilot source drawn from the opposite port of the motor. These dual pilot sources add interesting functionality to the brake valve in that it is both internally and externally piloted.
The internal, direct-acting signal will ensure the motor won’t move until a combination of load and pump pressure pushes through the motor to the tune of 3,000 psi. This allows the motor to stay “braked” while pump flow is non-existent. However, a direct-acting brake control valve is an inefficient method to control motion.
This valve has a trick up its sleeve — the surface area the external pilot works against is larger than the area of the direct acting side. The ratio of areas is often 4:1 but can be upwards of 8:1. The result is the pilot pressure needs to a quarter of work pressure, reducing energy lost to the brake valve. The brake valve is essentially braking to the tune of 3,000 psi, but opening to provide flow when the opposite port sees 375-750 psi. The valve uses pilot pressure as permission to open and allow flow, preventing unintended movement of the motor.
Lastly, we arrive at the motion control valve labelled counterbalance valve. It’s typically one and the same as a brake valve but used in cylinder applications. This example shows a relief valve set to 2,800 psi and is plumbed to the cap port of the cylinder. The reverse flow check valve ensures the cylinder will extend with little pressure drop, but when the directional valve is placed back in neutral, the counterbalance valve remains closed so the cylinder will not accidentally retract.
The counterbalance valve also has a pilot ratio enabling the valve to open once it senses pilot energy from the rod port, preventing accidental retraction. Counterbalance valves also work well on the rod port of a cylinder, which prevents overrunning loads as a cylinder moves “over center,” which is a condition of pulling forces on the rod.
Both examples of these motion control valves could have been employed with spring chamber drain ports, just as with the sequence valve. The drain keeps the spring chamber free from additional pressure, but in the case of this circuit, the open line to the reservoir through directional valves is enough to prevent excessive pressure. It’s when both ports of the pressure valve are continuously pressurized that a drain or vent is absolutely required.
There are many variations of pressure valves not covered here, but those will be discussed in a later episode. In Hydraulic Symbology 204, I’ll cover the essentials of flow control valves, including how they’re drawn and where they’re used.
Filed Under: Fluid Power Basics, Valves & Manifolds