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Servovalve Circuits

When a cylinder or fluid motor application needs precise control of position, speed, or force,
an on/off solenoid or proportional solenoid valve will not do the job. Some rolling mills
control metal thickness to a tolerance of 0.0005 in. This is with metal passing through the
rolls at 2500 to 3000 ft/min and more. To hold these kinds of tolerances requires more than
a go, no-go hydraulic control valve.
Servo directional valves are the only hydraulic valves capable of controlling oil flow and/or
pressure rapidly and precisely. Servo directional valves are 4-way, 3-position spool valves
with all ports blocked in the center position. Usually, servovalve spools are controlled by
high-pressure pilot oil. Many spools have feedback sensing to give repeatable positioning
from a given input.
Servovalve spools differ from on/off or proportional valve spools because they have no
overlap in center condition. Spool overlap makes proportional valves (and the actuators
they control) respond slowly. With no overlap or underlap, any servovalve spool movement
gives immediate flow and actuator response. The more closely the spool and body lands
match at all four sealing areas, the more responsive the valve. This type of spool is difficult
to manufacture, which makes the valve expensive.
Servo systems control actuators to very close tolerances in regard to position, speed, or
force. Often a single circuit uses a combination of these functions. A cylinder may have to
rapidly approach the work piece, then penetrate it to precise depth at a controlled rate.
While servovalves are very fast and precise, their electronic control is what really makes a
servo system work so well. When a signal to move a cylinder starts an action, feedback from
its movement modifies valve input to make it match control input. Regardless of pressure
drop, fluid viscosity, load, or friction, feedback signals modify valve-spool position to make
the cylinder perform exactly as the input signal commands. The only time the actuator falls
behind is when it is underpowered.
Figures 21.1 and 21.2 show the schematic symbols for a typical servovalve as established by
the American National Standards Institute and the International Standards Organization.
Both symbols have parallel lines on both sides of the position envelopes. These parallel lines
indicate a valve spool with infinite positions. The symbol shows a blocked center (P to A, B
to T and P to B, A to T), but the spool seldom shifts all the way to either of these positions.

Spools can shift any amount in either direction, producing increasing or decreasing flow to
and from the actuator to move it in either direction.

Figure 21-1. ANSI servovalve symbol.

Figure 21-2. ISO servovalve symbol.

Simple mechanical servocircuit


Figure 21.3 shows a simple mechanical servocircuit that controls rudder movement on
tugboats. The rudder on a tugboat is big and directly in the prop wash, so the operator must
have help in moving and controlling it. The lever-operated hydraulic valve in this circuit
directs hydraulic power to move the rudder via a double-acting cylinder. If the valve is in the
pilothouse, it does not show rudder position. Without knowing the rudder angle, engaging
the propellers might be disastrous in some situations.

Figure 21-3. Simple manual rudder-control circuit -- at rest with pump running.

gures 21.4 through 21.6 show an inexpensive manual rudder-control circuit. This circuit
uses the same lever-operated control valve in Figure 21.3, but here it mounts on the rod of
the double-acting cylinder. The operator controls the valve from the pilothouse with a lever
called a tiller. A cable and pulley system connects the tiller to the valve. This all sounds a
little crude but it works quite well on small boats.

Figure 21-4. Mechanical servo rudder-control circuit -- at rest with pump running.

The clevis-mounted double-acting cylinder attaches to the boat frame and the rudder lever.
The lever-operated valve mounts directly to the cylinder rod so it moves with the rudder
lever. When the operator moves the tiller to the right, as in Figure 21.5, the lever on the
valve moves to the right. When the lever moves, it shifts the directional valve and ports oil
from the pump to the cylinder's cap end and returns oil to tank from the rod end. The
cylinder moves the rudder to the right as long as the operator keeps moving the tiller.
When the operator stops moving the tiller, as in Figure 21.6, the directional valve, moving
with the cylinder rod, catches up and centers. When tiller movement ceases, the rudder
stops and holds. The rudder and tiller stay in this position until the operator steers in a
different direction. At all times the operator knows rudder position by looking at the tiller
angle.

Figure 21-5. Mechanical servo rudder-control circuit -- rudder moving right.

Figure 21-6. Mechanical servo rudder-control circuit -- rudder stopped and holding.

The mechanical servosystem is nothing more than a force multiplier. In this case, the
formerly hard-to-move rudder now moves with slight manual force. At the same time, the
tiller position indicates the rudder angle because of mechanical linkage feedback.
An automobile power-steering system uses similar circuitry. Steering wheel movement
shifts a directional valve that powers a cylinder to move the steering mechanism. When the
steering wheel moves, front wheel angle changes. When steering wheel motion ceases the
front wheels stop and hold.
The rudder control circuit shown here might be adapted to control a pressing action where
cylinder movement follows the motion of the operator's hand. This gives accurate position
with a great amount of force from the operator's intuitive feel.

Servovalves for accurate positioning of actuators


The schematic drawing in Figure 21.7 shows the general arrangement for a typical
servocircuit that accurately controls cylinder position. When a cylinder must quickly go to
many different locations with an accuracy of less than 0.020 in., a servocircuit is the best
way to control it.

Figure 21-7. Pressure-compensated piston pump with accumulators in an electrical closed-loop positioning circuit.

Notice that the hydraulic power unit has a pressure-compensated pump with accumulators.
This arrangement holds constant pressure and has ample volume for short bursts of high
flow. Without the accumulators, there is a sharp pressure drop when a cylinder starts
moving. Fixed-displacement pumps and accumulators work also, but the power unit shown
here is best overall.
Place the servovalve as close as possible to the actuator (preferably attaching it directly to
it). Use rigid piping when the valve cannot mount directly on the actuator. Flexible lines
between the servovalve and the actuator can negatively affect the accuracy and stability of
the circuit.
Always install pressure filters in the lines to the servovalves. One pressure filter after the
pump might be sufficient when the power unit is close to the valves. Separate filters are
advisable when there is some distance to the servovalves. Use a cleanliness level of 1 to 5
µm in a servocircuit. Even normal pump-wear contamination quickly plugs orifices
and sticks spools in most servovalves. Do not use a bypass-type pressure filter in a
servovalve circuit. Even with a 125-psi bypass spring, contaminated fluid can get around the
filter during a normal cycle. It is better to shut the machine down with a clogged filter than
with a contaminated servovalve and a dirty filter.
Because the cylinders in this arrangement must stop accurately at many different locations,
the circuit includes a feedback transducer at the cylinder rod. When the PLC commands the
cylinder to go to a certain location, the PLC sends a signal to the servovalve control card.
The servo control card sends an output to the servovalve that starts the cylinder moving. As
the cylinder moves, the feedback transducer constantly sends position information to the
servo control card. When the cylinder approaches the predetermined position, it slows and
stops within a few thousandths of an inch of that location every cycle. Because electronic
hardware controls the speed and position of the cylinder, fluid viscosity, load, pressure
drop, or machine friction have no effect. The control card modifies the sevovalve shift to
offset external or internal system changes as long as the actuator has ample power to
overcome them.

In essence the electronics modify servovalve output according to actual actuator movement
to get the desired accuracy. A servovalve controls oil flow as a 4-way directional valve would,
but it has the ability to change flow continuously. Response time of the servovalve to the
electronic controllers' changes is the important thing. Less-expensive, more dirt-tolerant
servovalves offer less-accurate control.
With the circuit in Figure 21.7, cylinder positioning at any location within its stroke is
attainable with repeatable accuracy to thousandths of an inch.
Servovalves for accurate control of position and velocity
The schematic diagram in Figure 21.8 shows servovalves controlling the velocity and
position of a cylinder. The cylinder in this circuit has position and speed control, while the
hydraulic motor only has speed control. All previous information about hydraulic power
unit type, valve location, and filters applies to this circuit or any other servo application.

Figure 21-8. Pressure-compensated piston pump with accumulators in an electrical closed-loop positioning and
velocity circuit.

The cylinder in this circuit has accurate positioning as does the cylinder in Figure 21.7, but
this cylinder has controlled speed as well. A milling operation requires accurate speed
control but also may need depth control. When fast accurate positioning at multiple
locations is important, use a servovalve.
When the PLC sends a signal to start the cylinder moving, it smoothly ramps up to any
speed desired. A servovalve allows for accurate velocity change anywhere within the stroke
when the controller calls for it. At the end of stroke, the cylinder decelerates rapidly and
smoothly to an accurate stopping position, without shock. Again, the servovalve performs
the 4-way function while the electronic controls change speed and position. The servovalve
must respond fast enough to follow the controllers' outputs or the cylinder position and/or
speed will not match the machine requirements.
The hydraulic motor in Figure 21.8 must turn at a constant rate regardless of load or
changes in pressure drop or fluid thickness. Even with a pressure- and temperaturecompensated flow control, motor speed varies as pressure changes. Internal slippage in the
motor is greater at higher pressures, so speed decreases even with constant input flow.
With a servovalve feeding the hydraulic motor and a feedback device giving the servocontrol
card continuous speed information, motor speed is consistent. The only time motor speed
varies is when it stalls at relief valve pressure.

As before, electronics handles all input and modifications to get the desired speed. A
servovalve controls oil flow as a 4-way directional valve does, but it also has the ability to
change flow as needed. It is the response of the servovalve to the electronic controllers'
changes that is most important. Less-expensive, more dirt-tolerant servovalves have less
accuracy.
With the circuit in Figure 21.8, cylinder speed is fast, and the cylinder stops in a precise
position without shock. The hydraulic motor maintains the set speed regardless of load or
input fluctuations until it stalls from lack of torque. All motions are repeatable.