Transmitting high power from a small lightweight package is one of the chief benefits of hydraulics. And there aren’t many applications where this is more important than with equipment that must be carried manually. That’s why Jaws of Life and other high-power tools rely on hydraulic systems operating at high pressure to so they can be carried to the point of use, fit into tight quarters, yet still produce force measured in tons for lifting, crushing or torque for twisting.
That’s the case with a manufacturer of a portable hydraulic power for high-pressure, portable hydraulic power tools. Designers wanted to make the power unit as light as possible, but it seemed as if everything had been done. Integrated hydraulic circuits using cartridge valves were specified in lieu of line-mounted valves, the number of components was reduced to a minimum, and fluid lines were made as short as possible. Then designers discovered the latest capabilities of metal 3D printing.
Benefits of Metal 3D Printed Components
Metal 3D-printed components are not new, but until recently, material strength needed to accommodate high pressures kept hydraulics tapping into this technology. Metal 3D printing is often associated with additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing involves beginning with nothing and adding only enough metal to make the component that meets dimensional, physical, and mechanical properties.
Components made using metal 3D printing can be smaller and, especially, lighter than equivalent components made by conventional methods. At left is a manifold that had been used in a portable power unit, and at right is the 3D-printed version, which weighs 74% less. (Image courtesy of Aidro SrL.)
This is in contrast to machined components, where the component (typically a manifold) begins as a solid block of metal, and the material is removed to meet requirements. The limitation to this technology is that excess material usually is left in place to save the expense of removing it, resulting in parts that weigh more than necessary. Much of the excess metal could be removed to reduce weight, but doing so would add substantial manufacturing cost that rarely can be justified by the relatively small weight reduction.
thumbnail courtesy of hydraulicspneumatics.com