Hydraulic Accumulators Accumulators store hydraulic energy and then provide this energy back to the system when

required. Accumulators store energy when hydraulic system pressure is greater the accumulator and provide hydraulic energy when the accumulator pressure is greater than the system pressure. By storing and providing hydraulic energy, accumulators can perform 5 basic functions for hydraulic systems: • • • • • Supply oil for high transient flow demands when pump can’t keep up Help reduce pump ripple and pressure transients Absorb hydraulic shock waves (due to valve closures or actuators hitting stops) Used as a primary power source for small (low demand) systems Help system accommodate thermal expansion of the fluid

Almost all aerospace hydraulic systems use accumulators for one of the above reasons. In fact, most hydraulic systems use an accumulator to dampen pressure transients in the power generation system. The pressure transients result from pump ripple, opening/closing of valves, actuators bottoming out and so on. Some practitioners believe accumulators are over utilized and systems can be designed without an accumulator in the power generation system. However, this has not been standard practice and if an accumulator is not used, other design considerations should be considered. The selection and design characteristics of accumulators will vary between the applications. Hydraulic accumulators store hydraulic fluid under pressure. Pressure is supplied through a bag, diaphragm or piston by either a spring, or pressured gas (most common). Accumulators are inherently dynamic devices – they function when configuration changes (actuators moving, valves opening, etc.) are occurring within a hydraulic system. Accumulators respond very fast to configuration changes, nearly instanteously for gas accumulators. The capability and affect of the accumulator is determined by the overall volume of the accumulator and preload/precharge of the spring/gas Gas accumulators take advantage of the fact that the gas (nitrogen) is compressible. A gas accumulator has a gas precharge that is less than nominal hydraulic system pressure. As hydraulic fluid enters the accumulator the gas is compressed to the nominal system pressure, which is an equilibrium position and represents the maximum amount of energy stored by the accumulator. As system hydraulic pressure drops, the gas will expand pushing hydraulic fluid back into the system. The gas precharge level is an important parameter for gas accumulators since the precharge and overall accumulator volume determine the maximum amount of hydraulic energy that will be available to the system. There are 4 types of accumulators: bladder, diaphragm bladder, piston (either spring or gas controlled) and metal bellows. The choice of accumulator to use in a given application depends on required speed of accumulator response, weight, reliability and cost. Pressurized gas accumulators will have the faster dynamic response and are reliable. Metal bellows accumulators are very reliable, but will not respond as fast as a pressurized gas accumulator. Accumulators with seals generally have the lowest reliability. Accumulators are either spherical or cylindrical in design. Bag, piston and metal bellows accumulators are cylindrical. Diaphragm accumulators may be spherical or cylindrical. Accumulators are usually manufactured into 2 halves which are either welded or threaded together. A fill port is installed at one end of a gas accumulator and the hydraulic connection fitting (with poppet valve, if required) is installed at the opposite end. For a spring accumulator, the non pressure side usually has a fitting that connects to the hydraulic reservoir (for seal leakage and to alleviate back pressure on a piston). Materials are usually steel, but accumulators may also be made from aluminum or a composite (filament wound) material. Bladder Accumulator A bladder accumulator consists of pressure vessel with an internal elastomeric bladder with pressurized nitrogen on one side and hydraulic fluid on the other side (system side). Figure 1 shows a bladder accumulator with the 3 stages of operation, plus an overexpanded bag schematic. The accumulator is charged with nitrogen through a valve installed in the top. The accumulator will be precharged to nominal

A poppet valve keeps the bag in accumulator from being pulled into the downstream tubing should the bag overexpand. As the bag expands. Hence gas accumulators will be larger than other accumulators for the same flow requirements. The precharge pressure is typically set to approximately 80% of the minimum desired hydraulic system pressure. The maximum flow rate of the accumulator is controlled by the opening area (orifice) and the pressure difference across the opening. Hence bladder accumulators are the best choice for pressure pulsation damping. . forcing fluid from the accumulator into the system as shown in Figure 1c. When nominal hydraulic system pressure is applied the bag will be compressed to its fully compressed state as shown in Figure 1b. the speed of the bladder accumulator is governed by the gas. If the bag was pulled into the downstream tubing. The main advantages of a bladder accumulator are fast acting. not susceptible to contamination and consistent behavior under similar conditions. which is a failure that would not usually be detectable in service. The behavior characteristics of a diaphragm accumulator are similar to a bag accumulator. Also.pressure when the pumps are not operating. Because there is no piston mass. the accumulator would never recharge and normal flow from the pump would be constricted. shown in Figure 1a. Accumulators are easy to charge with the right equipment. A schematic of a diaphragm accumulator is shown in Figure 2. the nitrogen pressure and the hydraulic pressure are equal. the bladder attachment internal to the accumulator has proven to be very reliable in service. (a) Bag Precharged (b) Bag Compressed Figure 1 (c) Bag Expanded (d) Bag Overexpanded Bladder Accumulator Schematic Diaphragm Accumulator A diaphragm accumulator is similar to bag accumulator except an elastomeric diaphragm is used in lieu of a bag. The main limitation of bladder accumulators is the compression ratio (maximum system pressure to precharge pressure) which is limited to approximately 4 to 1. no hysteresis. Of course there is always the potential for bladder failure. Also. The bag will continue to expand until the bag pressure equals the hydraulic pressure (which will be lower than nominal system pressure) or the bag fills the entire accumulator volume as shown in Figure 1d (an undesirable situation). which reacts very fast to changes in hydraulic system pressure. This would typically reduce the usable volume of the accumulator so the diaphragm accumulator may not have volume capacity of a bladder accumulator. pressure in the bag decreases. When the bag is fully compressed. temperature differences on the gas will have some affect on performance. As system pressure drops the bag expands.

Q2 Pipe P1. A gas piston accumulator has a piston which slides against the accumulator housing on seals. The main difference with bladder accumulators is an increased maximum compressions ratio (maximum system pressure to precharge pressure) of approximately 8 to 1. Q1 Figure 3 Piston Accumulator Schematic . However a diaphragm accumulator may be spherical or cylindrical (or possibly other shapes) which may be an advantage in some installations. A fill port allows pressurization of the nitrogen. Fill Valve Piston Stops Nitrogen Piston Housing Hydraulic Fluid P2.Fill Valve Nitrogen Hydraulic Fluid Diaphragm Check Valve P2. Q 2 Pipe P 1 . Piston Accumulator A gas piston accumulator is shown in Figure 3. On one side of the piston is nitrogen and on the other side is the hydraulic fluid and connection to the system. Q1 Figure 2 Diaphragm Accumulator Schematic Diaphragm accumulator’s behavior will be similar to a bladder accumulator and have the same advantages and disadvantages.

the spring will extend pushing the piston which in turn pushes fluid into the adjoining pipe. except a metal bellows replaces piston and piston seals. a piston accumulator will have better damping due to hydraulic leakage (viscous damping) and friction between the piston and housing (coulomb friction & seal friction). The accumulator is similar to a piston accumulator. Metal bellows accumulators are pre-charged by supplier and then permanently sealed leading to a maintenance free accumulator. compared with bladder accumulator ratios of 4 to 1.A gas piston accumulator will not respond to transient pressures as fast as a bladder accumulator due to the mass of the piston (frequency characteristics depend on piston mass and spring characteristics of the nitrogen). which is computed using ωn = ks = mp spring rate mass of piston (rad/sec) Metal Bellows Figure 5 shows a metal bellows accumulator. A schematic of a spring piston accumulator is shown in Figure 4. A metal bellows accumulator is shown in Figure 5. Emergency brake accumulators are a good application for metal bellows accumulators. Metal bellows accumulators are used where a fast response time is not critical yet reliability is important. Hence the accumulator supplements pump flow. Q2 Figure 4 P1. The maximum response time of the accumulator is set by the natural frequency. have a lower response time than bladder (unless the piston accumulator is at a very high pressure) and will have hysteresis from the seal friction. the spring applies a force to a piston which compresses (or pressurizes) the fluid in the accumulator. The disadvantages of piston accumulators are that they are more susceptible to fluid contamination. The metal bellows accumulator consists of a pressure vessel with a metal bellows assembly separating fluid and nitrogen. Piston accumulators may also be more prone to leakage than other types of accumulators due to the seals. However. and have a proven service history. the spring will be fully compressed. Metal bellows accumulators are very reliable and long life components. Piston accumulators will generally provide higher flow rates than gas accumulators for equal accumulator volumes. As normal system pressure. Q1 Spring Controlled Accumulator Schematic In a spring accumulator. . This is because piston accumulators can accommodate higher pressure ratios (maximum system pressure to precharge pressure) than gas accumulators. up to 10 to 1. As system flow demands exceed the pump capacity. Metal bellows accumulators will be slow in responding to pressure changes due to increased mass of piston and bellows. The precharge for a gas piston accumulator is typically set to around 90% of minimum desired hydraulic system pressure. Prtn ks Piston Vacc Pacc Qacc Aacc x Ap P2.

and metal bellows). piston. with folds) leading to bag damage and premature bag failure. Also a low precharge pressure will allow a piston accumulator to repeatedly hit the “up” stops leading to premature failure of the accumulator. A gas accumulator is precharged with nitrogen gas when there is no hydraulic fluid in the accumulator to the desired pressure. Accumulator Volume – total volume of the accumulator (both gas and fluid volume) . if a bag accumulator charge is too high than the bag may hit the poppet valve which could damage the bag through repeated hits in service. Q2 Pipe P1. Accumulator Type – as described above there are 4 basic types of hydraulic accumulators (bladder. For a bag accumulator. Accumulator Design Considerations The most important characteristics for hydraulic accumulators are listed below. once the accumulator is sized the minimum and maximum gas volumes should be computed (under worst case conditions) and analyzed to ensure piston stops are not hit or that a bag cannot fully collapse or expand completely in the accumulator. A rule of thumb for bladder accumulators is to set the precharge pressure to approximately 80% of the desired minimum hydraulic system pressure. However. Each type has advantages and disadvantages and the specifications will vary between the 4 types..Fill Valve Stops Housing Nitrogen Piston Hydraulic Fluid Metal Bellows P2. When sizing an accumulator the precharge pressure is an input to the sizing process. the bag may be forced into an unnatural shape (e. The gas accumulator pre-charge is a very important variable for ensuring optimal accumulator performance and maintaining long life of the accumulator. Furthermore. For a piston accumulator. the piston may be driven into the stops repeatedly affecting seals or cause a fatigue failure in the piston stop. A rule of thumb for gas piston accumulators is to set the precharge pressure to approximately 90% of the of the desired minimum hydraulic system pressure. or cause a fatigue failure in the poppet valve assembly. Q1 Figure 5 Gas Accummulator Precharging Metal Bellows Accumulator Schematic The precharge is the pressure of the gas in the accumulator without hydraulic fluid in the fluid side. Too high of a precharge pressure and the fluid volume capacity is reduced. diaphragm.g. Too low of a precharge pressure and the accumulator may not maintain desired minimum hydraulic system pressure.

Recharge Time – this is the time fully charge an accumulator from a fully drained state (i. This will be a function of precharge value and the flow opening (orifice) in the accumulator. The value is also called the working volume. The required flow rate is a key requirement that drives the size of the accumulator. which will usually be the no flow rating of the hydraulic pump Minimum Hydraulic System Pressure – this is the minimum pressure that the accumulator must maintain in the hydraulic system. This is a design requirement used to size the accumulator.Nominal Hydraulic System Pressure – this is the nominal hydraulic system pressure in the system. The affects of a loss of accumulator performance should be evaluated in the hydraulic system to ensure no unacceptable affects may occur within the system. Connection Fitting – the hydraulic interface fitting must be known so that a mating fitting can be included in the design of the hydraulic system. Mounting Flange – Determine method of mounting accumulator is acceptable in your application and that the mount is capable of withstanding all mounting forces.. Accumulator performance should be evaluated over the expected temperature range of the nitrogen.e. Required Flow Rate – to maintain minimum hydraulic system pressure. Operating Temperature Range – the behavior of the gas (nitrogen) varies with temperature. High Frequency Cycling Capability – only a concern when accumulators are used for damping of pressure pulsations or very fast pressure transients. This should be evaluated when there is a fast duty cycle requirement. which is the volume at the minimum desired hydraulic system pressure). the seals will also tend to wear unevenly leading to earlier leakage. For a potential pressure vessel burst. or a pressure vessel burst. the accumulator must be able to supply sufficient flow over a determined period of time. . the installation should be reviewed with respect to surrounding components and also for drainage of fluid and compartment ventilation. Precharge Pressure – precharge is the pressure of the nitrogen in an accumulator without any hydraulic fluid in the accumulator. Output Volume Capability – the output volume capacity of the fluid volume the accumulator is capable of providing between the nominal hydraulic system pressure and the required minimum hydraulic pressure. The accumulator must provide this flow when the gas (or spring) is between the nominal hydraulic system pressure and the minimum desired hydraulic system pressure. If a non-vertical installation is required some evaluation of accumulator life should be accomplished and the appropriate maintenance inspections (or life limits) put in place. In this type of application. Fluid Type – accumulator seals and elastromeric bladder/diaphragm material must be compatible with the hydraulic fluid used in the system Failure Modes – the main failure modes for an accumulator will be failure of a bladder or piston seal. Analysis should use the mass of the accumulator when fully charged with fluid. The accumulator volume for hydraulic flow is equal to Q * t (required flow rate times the time required for this flow). Response Time – this is the time for the accumulator to provide the desired fluid volume. This is a design requirement used in sizing accumulators. Mounting Position – vertical is always preferred with fluid outlet at the bottom. The recharge time will be the amount of time for fluid to fill the accumulator based on the available flow rate from the pump (minus other system demands). For piston accumulators. This volume must be provided at the required flow rate (see Required Flow Rate). Horizontal installations will tend to wear a bladder or diaphragm on the down side leading to earlier failures and lower reliability. The response time times the output volume capability equals the flow rate of the accumulator. Note that the flow rate provided by the accumulator will be nonlinear because as the gas expands the pressure drops off nonlinearly. the frequency response capability of the accumulator should be computed to ensure it is compatible with the transient phenomena. The precharge pressure determines the amount of fluid that an accumulator can hold at the system pressure and the desired minimum hydraulic system pressure. including crash g loads. at minimum volume.

A secondary function of accumulators is to absorb volume changes in fluid due to temperature fluctuations. then the fluid must flow through a thermal relief valve to the reservoir. Hydraulic – Sizing). The approach to sizing an accumulator for this application is shown in the sizing section (see Accumulators. but no well proven design procedure exists for both sizing and placement of accumulators for pressure pulsation damping. Therefore. This requires having an accumulator of sufficient volume to supply the flow needs while still maintaining adequate system pressure. This is most often done in the power generation portion of a hydraulic system.Applications of Accumulators One of the main applications of hydraulic accumulators is to supply flow for brief periods of time when a pump cannot keep up. In this case. Computing accumulator size to accommodate temperature variations is relatively straightforward. One of the reasons for experimentation is that laboratory research has shown pressure waves in pipe to be both a function of time and location along a pipe. the energy is partially absorbed by the accumulator each time the wave flows by the accumulator. The size and type of accumulator chosen will depend on the functions that accumulator is addressing. Another application of accumulators is to damp pressure spikes from pumps or downstream configuration changes (such as actuators hitting stops and valves closing). an accumulator can be sized and installed to do multiple functions. a single accumulator can perform any or all of the above functions. Furthermore. reasonable volume changes can be accommodated without having flow to the reservoir. but accumulators can be put anywhere in the system for pressure pulsation damping. a pressure relief valve exhibits hysteresis and must flow a sufficient fluid so that pressure drops below the level where the valve will close (which could be a significant flow amount). Standard practice has shown this to be a proven technique. This is wasted flow and hence results in wasted energy thereby decreasing system efficiency. Lastly. A benefit of using an accumulator in this regard is that it allows the pump size to be smaller. Hence some experimentation may be required if an initial design does not achieve the desired results. an acceptable functional test procedure will usually need to be implemented at an appropriate interval. Usually the accumulator only assists during a worst case duty cycle or after a particular failure has occurred in the system. as a pressure wave moves up and down the piping. This latency may be an issue when conducting a safety analysis on a system where the accumulator plays an important role (such as emergency gear extend or emergency braking). With an accumulator. In this application. . Thus at some locations along a tube there will only be small changes in pressure magnitude (high peak to low peak) while at other locations the pressure fluctuations (high peak to low peak) will be much larger. the loss of pressurized gas in a sealed accumulator (or spring failure in spring accumulators) is generally a latent failure. Hence the wave damps out much faster than in a system without an accumulator. If an accumulator is not used and a rise in temperature increases pressure above system pressure. Of course.

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