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Function Pressure control valves perform a number of functions within a hydraulic system. Most importantly they limit the maximum system pressure. In doing so, they protect individual components from the risk of overload and subsequent damage. In addition, they can control the pressure in a particular part of a system, unload a pump or determine the sequence in which actuators or valves perform their functions. Pressure Relief Valves Situated on the outlet line from the pump the pressure relief valve (PRV) is designed to limit the maximum system pressure. Normally closed, this valve opens when system pressure is reached diverting surplus pump delivery back to tank. They may also be found in a particular branch of a circuit where they are termed circuit relief valves. Closed loop arrangements deploy them on pump / motor circuits where they are connected across the two main lines between the pump and motor; thus the term cross-line relief valves.

Simple / Direct Acting Relief Valves



Contained within a body, this component comprises a ball or poppet held firmly on its seat by the action of a strong spring. Input pressure oil acts against the exposed area of the valve and applies a force to the strong spring. When the force of the pressure oil is

greater than the force of the spring the valve opens allowing input oil to flow via an output connection back to tank. Many valves of this type are adjustable either by the use of shims or an adjusting screw. This type of valve is very fast acting making it ideal for relieving shock loads. However, it is only suited to low volume applications.

Pressure Override Cracking Pressure is the term used to describe the pressure at which the valve initially moves off its seat. As inlet flow increases valve movement causes the spring to be further compressed. This leads to a consequent rise in pressure called pressure override; the main disadvantage of direct acting relief valves.

Compound / Pilot Operated Relief Valve This valve is utilised where large volumes of oil require to be dumped with a small pressure differential. Comprising two stages, the pilot stage is a simple direct acting valve which controls the second stage. Inlet pressure oil is applied to the underside of the main valve where it passes through a small orifice to the top side of the valve. As well as applying pressure oil to the pilot stage the main valve is now in a balanced condition with equal pressure acting on equal areas. Consequently, only a relatively weak spring is required to keep the main valve seated. This situation remains as long as the oil is at a lower pressure than that of the pilot valve setting. When oil pressure reaches the setting of the pilot valve it cracks off with a resultant drop in pressure at the main valve orifice. A pressure differential now exists between the top side and underside of the main valve. This causes the main valve to lift off its seat allowing oil to be dumped through the outlet connection. When inlet pressure drops below the valve setting the pilot stage will initially close. Equal pressure thus develops at both sides of the main valve and the spring causes it to close.


It is necessary on many hydraulic systems to control the speed of a motor or ram. Systems using a fixed displacement hydraulic pump employ a volume control valve for this purpose. It is possible to achieve the same result by using a variable displacement pump to regulate oil flow. Flow Control Methods Three methods are used to deploy volume control valves for controlling actuator speeds: Meter-In A volume control valve is placed in series in the line between the DCV and actuator. This controls the quantity of oil entering the actuator. Where speed control is required in one direction only a by-pass valve (check valve) is fitted within the flow control valve. This system is ideal where the load always resists actuator movement.

Meter-Out Oil exhausting out of the cylinder passes through a flow control valve which is fitted in the line between actuator and DCV. Again, a by-pass valve is fitted if speed control is required in one direction only. A common application of this system is when the load has a tendency to run away.

Bleed-Off A tee piece in the line between actuator and DCV allows a portion of the pump oil delivery to bleed off through the flow control valve back to reservoir. This is the least accurate of the three methods.

Needle and Globe Flow Control Valves This very simple valve places a restriction in the line. With the needle screwed down fully, flow is completely shut off. Unscrewing the valve increases the size of orifice allowing more oil to flow through. Globe valves operate on the same principle as needle valves except that they have a rounded metering tip. Proving the load remains constant, speed control is fairly accurate. However, a change in load results in a variation in pressure drop across the valve which alters oil flow.

Pressure Compensated Flow Control Valve Functions which require flow rates to be consistent, irrespective of pressure drop, use pressure compensated flow control valves. Regardless of upstream or downstream pressure changes, this valve maintains a precise flowrate. Fluid enters the valve at Port P before passing through the pressure control orifice. It then passes through the control orifice before leaving at Port A. Having areas which are exactly the same, the compensator spool is forced to the right by spring action during no flow conditions. The compensator orifice is fully open at this point. When fluid flows through the valve the compensator orifice will remain fully open when the pressure drop is less than the spring force. A pressure drop which is greater than the spring force will reduce the size of the compensator orifice. Where pressure on one side of the compensator spool changes, without the same change on the other side, movement of the compensator spool will result. Thereby, a fixed pressure drop across the control orifice is always maintained. A constant flow rate is therefore maintained.

Directional Control Valves

As the name suggests, these valves direct oil in the required direction. Check Valves Outlet

Inlet Simplest types of check valve simply allow flow in one direction but prevent flow in the opposite direction. In the closed position the valve is kept on its seat by the action of a light spring. The valve is opened by oil pressure acting against the valve surface allowing oil to flow through the circuit.

Pilot Operated Check Valves

Valve Closed

Pilot Port Outlet Port

Valve Opened by Pilot Signal

Inlet Port

Under normal circumstances this valve operates like a normal check valve allowing flow in one direction only. However, applying pressurised fluid to the pilot port opens the valve and allows reverse flow. This type of check valve is commonly used in applications where a cylinder has to be locked in position. It prevents leakage from the cylinder if a hose burst. A crane boom cylinder is a typical example. Spool Valve Valves of this type are fitted to most hydraulic circuits where positional control of an actuator (cylinder or motor) is required. A cylindrical valve comprising a number of spools is moved within a machined bore inside the valve body. The spools isolate each part of the circuit directing oil to and from the valve passages.

The valve shown above is a closed centre design. Connections to the valve are labelled A, B, P and T. A Actuator Port A B Actuator Port B P Pressure Supply T - Tank Fluid entering at port P whilst in the neutral position (shown) is closed off and pressure builds up causing the pump to off-load. Moving the spool within its bore to the right connects port P to B. Port A connects to T. Conversely, sliding the spool to the left connects P to A and B to T.