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Some fluid power systems, even when operating normally, may temporarily develop excessive pressure; for example, when an unusually strong work resistance is encountered. Relief valves are used to control this excess pressure. Relief valves are automatic valves used on system lines and equipment to prevent over-pressurization.

Most relief valves simply lift (open) at a preset pressure and reset (shut) when the pressure drops slightly below the lifting pressure. They do not maintain flow or pressure at a given amount, but prevent pressure from rising above a specific level when the system is temporarily overloaded.

Main system relief valves are generally installed between the pump or pressure source and the first system isolation valve. The valve must be large enough to allow the full output of the hydraulic pump to be delivered back to the reservoir. In a pneumatic system, the relief valve controls excess pressure by discharging the excess gas to the atmosphere.

Figure 6-10.—Hydraulic and pneumatic globe valve (rising stem).

Smaller relief valves, similar in design and operation to the main system relief valve, are often used in isolated parts of the system where a check valve or directional control valve prevents pressure from being relieved through the main system relief valve and where pressures must be relieved at a set point lower than that provided by the main system relief. These small relief valves are also used to relieve pressures caused by thermal expansion (see glossary) of the fluids. Figure 6-11 shows a typical relief valve. System pressure simply acts under the valve disk at the inlet to the valve. When the system pressure exceeds the force exerted by the valve spring, the valve disk lifts off of its seat, allowing some of the system fluid to escape through the valve outlet until the system pressure is reduced to just below the relief set point of the valve.

All relief valves have an adjustment for increasing or decreasing the set relief pressure. Some relief valves are equipped with an adjusting screw for this purpose. This adjusting screw is usually covered with a cap, which must be removed before an adjustment can be made. Some type of locking device, such as a lock nut, is usually provided to prevent the adjustment from changing through vibration. Other types of relief valves are equipped with a handwheel for making adjustments to the valve. Either the adjusting screw or the handwheel is turned clockwise to increase the pressure at which the valve will open. In addition, most relief valves are also provided

Figure 6-11.—Relief valve.

with an operating lever or some type of device to allow manual cycling or gagging the valve open for certain tasks.

Various modifications of the relief valve shown in figure 6-11 are used to efficiently serve the requirements of some fluid power systems; however, this relief valve is unsatisfactory for some applications. To give you a better under-standing of the operation of relief valves, we will discuss some of the undesirable characteristics of this valve.

A simple relief valve, such as the one illustrated in figure 6-11, with a suitable spring adjustment can be set so that it will open when the system pressure reaches a certain level, 500 psi for example. When the valve does open, the volume of flow to be handled may be greater than the capacity of the valve; therefore, pressure in the system may increase to several hundred psi above the set pressure before the valve brings the pressure under control. A simple relief valve will be effective under these conditions only if it is very large. In this case, it would operate stiffly and the valve element would chatter back and forth. In addition, the valve will not close until the system pressure decreases to a point somewhat below the opening pressure.

The surface area of the valve element must be larger than that of the pressure opening if the valve is to seat satisfactorily as shown in figure 6-12. The pressure in the system acts on the valve element open to it. In each case in figure 6-12, the force exerted directly upward by system pressure when the valve is closed depends on the area (A) across the valve element where the element seats against the pressure tube. The moment the valve opens, however, the upward force exerted depends on the horizontal area (B) of the entire valve element, which is greater than area A. This causes an upward jump of the valve element immediately after it opens, because the

Figure 6-12.—Pressure acting on different areas.

same pressure acting over different areas produces forces proportional to the areas. It also requires a greater force to close the valve than was required to open it. As a result, the valve will not close until the system pressure has decreased to a certain point below the pressure required to open it. Let us assume that a valve of this type is set to open at 500 psi. (Refer to fig. 6-12.) When the valve is closed, the pressure acts on area A. If this area is 0.5 square inch, an upward force of 250 pounds (500 ~ 0.5) will be exerted on the valve at the moment of opening. With the valve open, however, the pressure acts on area B. If area B is 1 square inch, the upward force is 500 pounds, or double the force at which the valve actually opened. For the valve to close, pressure in the system would have to decrease well below the point at which the valve opened. The exact pressure would depend on the shape of the valve element.

In some hydraulic systems, there is a pressure in the return line. This back pressure is caused by restrictions in the return line and will vary in relation to the amount of fluid flowing in the return line. This pressure creates a force on the back of the valve element and will increase the force necessary to open the valve and relieve system pressure.

It follows that simple relief valves have a tendency to open and close rapidly as they "hunt" above and below the set pressure, causing pressure pulsations and undesirable vibrations and producing a noisy chatter. Because of the unsatisfactory performance of the simple relief valve in some applications, compound relief valves were developed.

Compound relief valves use the principles of operation of simple relief valves for one stage of their action—that of the pilot valve. Provision is made to limit the amount of fluid that the pilot valve must handle, and thereby avoid the weaknesses of simple relief valves. (A pilot valve is a small valve used for operating another valve.)

The operation of a compound relief valve is illustrated in figure 6-13. In view A, the main valve, which consists of a piston, stem, and spring, is closed, blocking flow from the high-pressure line to the reservoir. Fluid in the high-pressure line flows around the stem of the main valves as it flows to the actuating unit. The stem of the main valve is hollow (the stem passage) and contains the main valve spring, which forces the main valve against its seat. When the pilot valve is open the stem passage allows fluid to flow from the pilot

Figure 6-13.—Operation of compound relief valve,

valve, around the main valve spring, and down to the return line. There is also a narrow passage (piston passage) through the main valve piston. This passage connects the high-pressure line to the valve chamber.

The pilot valve is a small, ball-type, spring-loaded check valve, which connects the top of the passage from the valve chamber with the passage through the main valve stem. The pilot valve is the control unit of the relief valve because the pressure at which the relief valve will open depends on the tension of the pilot valve spring. The pilot valve spring tension is adjusted by turning the adjusting screw so that the ball will unseat when system pressure reaches the preset limit.

Fluid at line pressure flows through the narrow piston passage to fill the chamber. Because the line and the chamber are connected, the pressure in both are equal. The top and bottom of the main piston have equal areas; therefore, the hydraulic forces acting upward and downward are equal, and there is no tendency for the piston to move in either direction. The only other force acting on the main valve is that of the main valve spring, which holds it closed.

When the pressure in the high-pressure line increases to the point at which the pilot valve is set, the ball unseats (fig. 6-13, view B). This opens the valve chamber through the valve stem passage to the low-pressure return line. Fluid immediately begins to flow out of the chamber, much faster than it can flow through the narrow piston passage. As a result the chamber pressure immediately drops, and the pilot valve begins to close again, restricting the outward flow of fluid. Chamber pressure therefore increases, the valve opens, and the cycle repeats.

So far, the only part of the valve that has moved appreciably is the pilot, which functions just like any other simple spring-loaded relief valve. Because of the small size of the piston passage, there is a severe limit on the amount of overpressure protection the pilot can provide the system. All the pilot valve can do is limit fluid pressure in the valve chamber above the main piston to a preset maximum pressure, by allowing excess fluid to flow through the piston passage, through the stem passage, and into the return line. When pressure in the system increases to a value that is above the flow capacity of the pilot valve, the main valve opens, permitting excess fluid to flow directly to the return line. This is accomplished in the following manner.

As system pressure increases, the upward force on the main piston overcomes the downward force, which consists of the tension of the main piston spring and the pressure of the fluid in the valve chamber (fig. 6-13, view C). The piston then rises, unseating the stem, and allows the fluid to flow from the system pressure line directly into the return line. This causes system pressure to decrease rapidly, since the main valve is designed to handle the complete output of the pump. When the pressure returns to normal, the pilot spring forces the ball onto the seat. Pressures are equal above and below the main piston, and the main spring forces the valve to seat.

As you can see, the compound valve over-comes the greatest limitation of a simple relief valve by limiting the flow through the pilot valve to the quantity it can satisfactorily handle. This limits the pressure above the main valve and enables the main line pressure to open the main valve. In this way, the system is relieved when an overload exists.


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