Purdue University Graduate School
ErnstFinalThesis.pdf (41.95 MB)

Enabling High-Pressure Operation with Water for the Piston-Cylinder Interface In Axial Piston Machines

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posted on 2021-03-01, 21:29 authored by Meike H ErnstMeike H Ernst

Water is inflammable, non-toxic, environmentally friendly--- desirable traits, for a hydraulic fluid. However, its extremely low viscosity diminishes the load-bearing and sealing capacity of lubricating interfaces. Case in point: axial piston machines of swash plate design are compact, highly efficient positive displacement machines at the heart of hydraulic systems in forestry, construction, aerospace, and agricultural equipment, as well as industrial applications (presses, etc.); however, the three main lubricating interfaces decisive to the performance of such units in terms of both component life and efficiency are challenged by the use of water as working fluid. Especially during high-pressure operation, this low-viscosity lubricant can cause the these interfaces to fail in carrying the imposed load, resulting in severe wear, or even pump failure. The piston-cylinder interface is particularly challenging to design for water because it stands under obligation to carry the heavy side load that acts on the pistons of these machines, which increases with operating pressure. Furthermore, the architecture of axial piston machines of swash plate design does not allow this interface to be hydrostatically balanced.

Through the development of a methodology that separates the fluid pressure fields of the three main lubricating interfaces of axial piston machines into their hydrostatic and hydrodynamic components, the present work enables a direct comparison of these interfaces in terms of how they support load. A case study of a 75 cc unit running on hydraulic oil conducted via this methodology at three different operating conditions (low pressure/low speed, low pressure/high speed, and high pressure/low speed) demonstrates that in the piston-cylinder interface, the force from hydrostatic pressure reaches such high magnitudes over the high-pressure stroke that less than half of it is needed to counter the load. The excess force from hydrostatic pressure then becomes the load. Consequentially, hydrodynamic pressure must counter a force from hydrostatic pressure that exceeds the original load. In the other two interfaces, by contrast, over half the load is being carried by hydrostatic pressure, thus significantly diminishing the amount of hydrodynamic pressure the interfaces are required to generate in order to achieve full load support. Moreover, nearly all of the moment on the piston is countered by hydrodynamic pressure, while less than half of the moment on the block is countered by hydrodynamic pressure, and the moment on the slipper is negligible by comparison.

While this case study only investigates one pump, it shows how critical hydrodynamic pressure can be to load support in the piston-cylinder interface. The use of a low-viscosity fluid, e.g. water, reduces the hydrodynamic pressure that is generated in this interface, which, at challenging operating conditions, can lead to metal-to-metal contact. However, the performance of the interface can be improved via micro surface shaping, i.e. by giving the surface of the piston, or the bore that it moves through, a shape on the order of microns in height. The aim of present work is to pursue design trends leading to surface shapes that will enable this interface to function at higher pressures than currently achievable.

This pursuit takes the form of systematic virtual design studies, an optimization procedure, and an algorithm developed specifically for tailoring the bore surfaces through which the pistons travel to piston tilt and deformation. From this emerges not only a set of design trends corresponding to the dimensions of two particularly powerful types of micro surface shaping, but also a profound insight into the behavior of the water-lubricated piston-cylinder interface fluid film, and how that behavior can be manipulated by changing the component surfaces that constitute its borders. Furthermore, in collaboration with Danfoss High Pressure Pumps, a physical prototype of a 444 cc axial piston pump with surface shaping generated via the aforementioned algorithm has been constructed and tested, achieving a total pump efficiency roughly 3% higher than that achievable by the commercial unit that the geometry of the prototype is based on.


Funding for part of this work was provided by the USDA


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Mechanical Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Andrea Vacca

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Farshid Sadeghi

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Arezoo Ardekani

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. John Lumkes

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