Electro hydraulic solution improves fuel efficiency in construction equipment

Published 30/12, 2020 at 10:07

Volvo Construction Equipment and Finland’s Norrhydro have developed a digital hydraulic actuator that increases productivity while radically cutting fuel bills and CO2 emissions in construction applications. If widely adopted, it could help the industry meet its sustainability goals while at the same time improving machine performance.

Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) is committed to a sustainable future to be achieved through internal developments and external partnerships. As part of this strategy, Volvo CE, in cooperation with Finland’s Norrhydro, is developing a new technology that is set to revolutionise machine hydraulic performance. When commercialised, the potential customer and climate benefits are expected to be radical, with machine fuel efficiency significantly increased and CO2 emissions being cut. While the full details of the revolutionary technology are closely guarded, the Norrhydro patented system, ‘NorrDigi’, uses a multi chamber digital hydraulic actuator that improves system efficiency meaning that much of a machine’s hydraulic system can be discarded or downsized. It removes the need for a main control valve – the heart of a traditional hydraulic system – along with excessive pump capacity, piping and hoses. It also uses less energy and offers the prospect for downsizing the engine capacity.


Removing the need for a main control valve 

The ongoing validations of the solution have demonstrated both efficiency improvement and increased machine productivity. With carbon dioxide emissions reduced, it makes a radical cut in the machine’s carbon footprint. Volvo CE and Norrhydro have signed a multi-year agreement where Volvo CE will continue to develop the technology in partnership with Norrhydro, and subsequently aim for first mover advantage. Volvo CE has exclusive rights to its use in its products during the development process.


Smart cylinders

Unlike traditional cylinders with two chambers – one pushing, one pulling – the digital hydraulic actuator uses four chambers that can be connected in up to 16 different permutations, depending on the load required by the desired operation. “It’s a bit like a 16 speed linear transmission,” says Peter Stambro, vice president business development at Norrhydro. “Multi chamber cylinders have been around for a while, but what makes our ones exceptional is the way they have been combined with advanced electronic control systems, whose complex algorithms and computational speed allow for instant response, but using only a fraction of the energy for the same machine manoeuvre or action compared to a traditional system.”

“This is a prime example of how partnerships with outside experts can accelerate our own sustainability journey through technical innovation,” says Thomas Bitter, head of technology at Volvo CE. “In research so far, the system shows greatest benefits in larger machines; in the case of excavators, those 30t and above. However, in the future, the technology could also be used in electric machines, where its much greater hydraulic system efficiency would effectively extend the battery life and operating window,” concludes Bitter.


Entering field test phase

With a Volvo EC300E 30t excavator as a test bed, the revolutionary technology has passed its initial proof of concept phase and durability tests, and is now moving to a field test period, where prototypes are used in real world applications by selected customer partners. It is forecast that the revolutionary system will be offered on the company’s excavators by 2024 at the latest. “The ability to develop this radical technology in partnership with a leading player in the construction equipment industry offers many advantages, including accelerating the time to market for commercialised products,” says Yrjö Trög, CEO of Norrhydro. “We will invest in a new multi-million euro world class manufacturing facility in support of the launch, and I look forward to the market introduction of the NorrDigi system together with Volvo CE.”

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