Italy: Aidro Uses Metal 3D Printing to Improve Hydraulic Components

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Most of us around the world rely on hydraulics to drive many of the different machines and larger electrical items we use without thinking much about the inner power or mechanics—until they stop working. From pumps to cylinders to actuators to valves, hydraulics are responsible for controlling electronics of all kinds.

As the industry has grown, however, there has been a need for more modern technology to propel hydraulics further. Enter metal 3D printing, and not only is there better technology, but the type that allows designers and engineers around the globe to create parts that would not be possible otherwise. Hydraulic parts can also be 3D printed in metal in smaller batches, often with unique features. All the benefits of 3D printing can be enjoyed, from affordability and ease in creation (as well as the ability to make changes) to greater productivity and faster manufacturing. Having a 3D printer on site changes production methods and time frame enormously, making it easy for those involved to understand why so many see the technology as a whole new revolution for industry.

3D printed hydraulic components can be 3D printed in a variety of materials, to include:

  • Stainless steel AISI 304
  • Stainless steel AISI 316L
  • Aluminum
  • Titanium
  • Inconel (718)

Aidro, headquartered in Northern Italy, is at the forefront of 3D printing in metal to create hydraulic components. Alberto Tacconelli, Managing Director, states that the most appropriate type of 3D printing for their purposes is powder bed fusion. This is used in both direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and selective laser melting (SLM) processes.

3D Printed Hydraulic Valve Block

For those wondering when metal 3D printing of hydraulics would be appropriate, Tacconelli recommends this technology if you are printing in small volumes, and especially for on-demand parts. If you rely heavily on prototyping or would like to do more of it, 3D printing allows you to create your own designs on-site rather than waiting weeks for a third party to deliver. 3D printing also allows you to choose from a wider range of strong metal materials. In Tacconelli’s case for 3D printing in metal at Aidro, he states they usually find themselves using aluminum and stainless steel. He also finds that the materials are the same or even better than bar stock metals.

“With good design methods, we can 3D print a hydraulic manifold that can withstand pressure peaks in the system without any problems,” says Tacconelli. “We can increase the wall thickness and change the shapes of the channels where the FEM analysis indicates a potential failure.”

Along with 3D printing manifolds and testing them at the Solutions Center for Additive Manufacturing in Hydraulics (SCAMH) Aidro created, they also extend evaluation of components further with expert support from the Polytechnic University of Milan.

“After careful evaluation, we have chosen the direct metal laser sintering process that, in the case of hydraulic products, guarantees better accuracy and produces a smoother surface finish,” says Tacconelli.

Some examples of hydraulic components that Aidro is 3D printing in metal are as follows:

  • Hydraulic valve block in stainless steel to control a single-acting cylinder – internal channels were optimized for better flow with lower pressure loss, and problems with external leakage were eliminated.
  • Improved stackable hydraulic valve – The weight was reduced by 60 percent when 3D printed in stainless steel, allowing for structural walls that were still just as strong when compared to parts made through traditional methods.
  • Hydraulic manifold used in agricultural machinery – This drives a double-acting cylinder with two solenoid valves and two pilot-operated check valves. With metal 3D printing, it is half as big as its more traditional counterpart, and a stunning 75 percent lighter.
  • Valve spool with new hole forms – This new design replaces the typical round holes with square ones, allowing for greater oil passage and less pressure drop.

The image below allows for the comparison of a traditional Aidro manifold and their 3D printed version.

“This manifold has exactly the same function as his predecessor: it controls a doubled acting cylinder with two solenoids valves and two pilot operated check valves. The complete new solution reached a 75% weight reduction and half size dimensions compared to the traditional manifold,” states the Aidro team.

Aidro was founded in 1982 by hydraulics engineer Paolo Tirelli. Today, they use metal 3D printing for making custom designs with complex geometries, lightweight parts, and rapid prototyping. Their SCAMH offers a facility where engineers are able to create new parts specifically designed to meet the needs of industry clients, including design, production, testing, measurement, CNC finishing, and any post treatments. Aidro uses direct metal laser sintering with an EOS 3D printer.

Discuss this article and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.

[Source: Hydraulics & Pneumatics / Images provided by Aidro Hydraulics]


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