By Josh Cosford
A hydraulic manifold is a metal billet of either ductile iron or aluminum, machined for and installed with cartridge valves. It is a form of compact hydraulics enjoyed with many benefits and with few downsides. The most obvious advantages with manifolds (sometimes called combination valves, blocks or integrated circuits), is in their space and plumbing saving nature. Because all passages, cavities and ports are machined into one relatively small chunk of metal, the real estate is vastly reduced over separately plumbed inline valves and bodies.
Another perk to manifolds, due to all of their plumbing and passages being internal, is their relatively leak-free nature. With no hoses or fittings required to attach valves of the circuit, the only leak points are at the work ports of the manifold itself—pressure and tank lines included. I should warn, leakage can still occur internally, if one of the cartridge valves’ seals leak. The symptom of such an ailment would be reduced machine performance, but at least no oil would be spilled before it could be repaired.
Few machine manufacturers turn their noses up at the opportunity to save costs, and manifolds provide this benefit as well. Especially in large quantities, combination valve manifolds can usually be less expensive than the combined cost of the separately plumbed brothers, but also save you money in installation and plumbing costs. Hose and fittings aren’t getting cheaper, and labor even less so; therefore cutting half their requirement from the equation can’t be bad.
On top of all the practical benefits to manifolds is the appearance trump card they play. They simply look great, and can be anodized or painted any color to look even better. Cleaning up the rat’s nest of hoses and fittings plays a significant role in the neat and tidy appearance of a machine.
Manifolds are used on the majority of mobile machinery, especially on machines in the upper reaches of price and volume. Because of the countless cartridge valve configurations possible, there is no machine too advanced for their use, from wood processors to combines or from skid steers to excavators. They’re capable of advanced electro-proportional control or even just a series of bang-bang valves. Few, if any, machines would not benefit from compact hydraulic manifolds.