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Counterbalance Valve

Technical Information
The basic purpose of counterbalance valves is to convert overrunning, or negative loads
into positive loads so that directional control valves always see a positive load. This provides
for safety of the machine and operator.
In Figure 1, when the directional control valve shifts to lower the load, that load starts to
fall out of control as gravity takes over. The load may fall faster than oil can be supplied by the
pump and a vacuum will be create behind the piston. This could draw air through the pump
into the blind end of the cylinder.

V1 C1

PF

Load

Figure 1
By adding a counterbalance valve as shown in Figure 2 to the circuit, we now have a
smooth and shockless way of slowly lowering a heavy load. Sun counterbalance valves are
available in 3:1, 4.5:1 and 10:1 operating ratios. This ratio determines the amount of pilot
pressure required to open the by-pass valve and allow the load to lower.

V1 C1

PF
V2

V3 Load

Figure 2
Figure 3 shows the formula that calculates the amount of pilot pressure required to open
the counterbalance valve.
P = Pilot pressure required to Lower Load
L = Load induced pressure
SL
S = Setting of the valve P=
PR + C R
PR = Pilot ratio of valve
CR = Cylinder area ratio

Figure 3
In general, lower pilot ratios provide better motion control and stability, especially in
spongy systems and in systems with high inertial loads. High pilot ratios generally provide
adequate control of motors, although hydraulically released brakes should still be used to lock
static loads due to motor leakage. High pilot ratios also improve system efficiency through
lower heat generation, but sometimes at the cost of stability and motion control. High ratios
may also be required in systems with very high load induced pressures.
The valve shown in Figure 2 is an internally and externally piloted valve. The external
pilot provides the signal required to open the counterbalance, while the internal pilot provides
the smooth, shockless lowering of massive loads. When external piloting is used, all of the
pump pressure is available when working against static loads. The counterbalance valve may
be drained either externally or internally. However, external draining is preferred, especially
if there are filters, heat exchangers, or other components in the tank return line which could
cause back pressure. With external draining, the spool of the counterbalance valve will already
be in correct counterbalancing position at the moment the directional valve is shifted.
The counterbalance valve setting should be 1.3 times the load induced pressure and this
setting should be made on a test stand if possible.

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