3D printing useful for hydraulic valves

Metal 3D printing hasn’t gained widespread application in the hydraulics sector because of all the challenges associated with high pressure. One of the major advantages of hydraulic technology is its high power density, especially in terms of actuators. For example, hydraulic cylinders only a few inches in diameter can generate forces to lift thousands of pounds, crush rock and concrete, or form high-strength steel into rugged components.

Another advantage of hydraulics is its ability to control direction, speed, torque and force using anything from simple manually operated valves to sophisticated electronic controls to command valves automatically. And even though electronic control of hydraulic valves continues to advance, processes improvements for manufacturing the valves themselves have not been as dramatic. But that has started to change. Valve components can also benefit from 3D printing. For example, valve spools usually contain circular flow paths, primarily because machine tools use rotating cutting tools. Instead, making flow paths with square cross-sectional areas instead of circular could increase flow capacity by 20%, because of the larger area of a square compared to a circle of the same width.

Alberto Tacconelli, Managing Director at Aidro SrL, Taino, Italy, explains that 3D printed components are best suited to highly specialized applications, not large production volumes. Aidro designs and manufactures conventional and 3D printed hydraulic components. “With additive manufacturing, we can create highly customized components that are smaller, lighter, and often with higher efficiency or performance than those built using conventional techniques.”

Pictured: A 3D-printed hydraulic valve block made of stainless steel. 
Image courtesy of Aidro SrL
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