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Use PWM to Control Output Pressure of a Hydraulic Power Unit


The technical staff of IDAS Engineering undertook an effort to study the characteristics of a constant pressure power source that uses pulse width modulation in order to effect the pressure regulation. Many details of that study are contained in the report that follows.

The Conclusions section states that this is a viable method of pressure control and cites the test results as justification. It is hoped by the writers that the hydraulic industry will see the merits of this method of pressure control and use it in those applications where it makes economic and performance sense to do so. The results, then, were intended to yield benefits in the short run, and as such, represent an engineering study aimed at being able to design and build such systems for use in many industrial and mobile systems.

In short, the efforts represent the kind of thing that most engineers in the real industrial world would like to do, if they had the time and resources. Too often, the pressures of the competitive business world force engineers to accept their own successes without necessarily knowing precisely why, or not having the wherewithal to test their theories, or without understanding the full range and impact of their own efforts.

The project started out with an ambitious agenda, which would have involved, initially, over 1000 tests, if all the combinations and permutations were executed. Perhaps we should have explored all of them, pursuing our own dream of knowing all the salient features of our own creations. Alas, we too, are victims of the clock and economics. Nonetheless, this report, we feel, represents more study than can normally be given to a specific development project in so many industrial venues.

We sincerely hope that the studies are both useful, and even a bit tutorial. All inquiries should be directed to the writers at the address and phone number below.
Good luck!


Pulse width modulation has been used successfully in electronic control circuits for at least forty years. It is an efficient method for controlling a large amount of output power while expending a relatively small amount of power in the controller itself. The sources of inefficiency in the electronic PWM circuit are well-known, and are reviewed in this book: Finite switching time of the solid state controlling devices and the finite conducting resistance of the switching device when it is in its ON-state. The extremely short switching times of electronic devices allows the efficient use of PWM at frequencies in the kilohertz range, and so the range of applications is fairly broad.

On the other hand, using pulse width modulation to perform hydraulic switching necessarily uses valves, the switching times for which must be measured in tens or even hundreds of milliseconds, not microseconds or nanoseconds as in the case of electronic circuits. The result is that the PWM hydraulic circuit too often produces unwanted vibrations and pulsations at frequencies which are in the ranges at which they are palpable in the output actuators. That possibility exists in the case of the PWM regulated pressure source that is the subject of this book.

The authors constructed a PWM controlled constant pressure power supply such as those that would be used for electrohydraulic servo mechanisms and motion control systems. The test results are displayed and analyzed, and a practical design methodology is outlined which can be used by others wishing to apply the PWM method to regulate pressure from a power unit that is to supply more than a trivial amount of power to a dynamic load. The suitability of the system design was evaluated by comparing the servo system performance with the PWM power supply with the same tests with a conventional pressure compensated pump.

The system that was studied consists of an engine driven pressure compensated pump which was operated as a fixed displacement pump for the PWM tests and was also operated in its normal pressure compensated mode for purposes of comparing the two pressure regulation methods. Accumulators were engaged and disengaged at both the pump and control valves sites. This book summarizes the results of the engineering study regarding the effectiveness of the Pulse Width Modulation method of controlling pump output pressure.


Two objectives were applied to this engineering analysis:
1. To determine the extent that a regulated pressure source could be constructed with PWM technology using a fixed displacement pump and augmenting accumulator as compared to the conventional method using a pressure compensated pump.

2. To formulate a design strategy for such hydraulic power units, especially analytical methods for determining the proper sizes for the accumulator and pump.

Table of Contents



Background on motion control and constant pressure

Equipment and principles of operation

  • The load and the profile
  • Installation description 
  • PWN on-off dump valve
  • Computer and data logging
  • Data logging descriptions
  • The command profiles
  • Velocity and position command profiles
  • Cylinder and profile constants
  • Load flow demand profiles
  • Background perspective on PWN
  • Ideal electronic PWN control
  • Practical PWN control
  • Hydraulic PWN
  • Hydraulic PWN inefficiences
  • Valve pull-in and dropout times

Method of investigation

  • Fixed test parameters
  • Procedure
  • Post processing of the data
  • Pressure regulation criteria
  • Baseline testing
  • Real time processing
  • Shorthand notion for circuit configuration

Test Results

  • Example motion control servo response
  • Tank port pressure transients
  • Valve shift time evaluations
  • About the pump ripple
  • Pressure compensation and the baseline
  • Test runs
  • Pressure compensation dynamic data
  • Anaylsis of the P-comp data
  • Servo loop error evaluation
  • Observations on pressure compensation results
  • Steady-state pump characteristics
  • Pressure compensator without accumulators
  • Variable displacement and pressure compensation
  • PWN pressure regulation tests
  • PWN dynamic data graphs
  • Analysis of PWN results
  • Dump/ undump frequency
  • Effects of accumulator location
  • More about pressure ringing
  • Oddities of the PWN recharge frequency
  • Observations using 1 second motion profile
  • Comparison of profile flow to measured flow
  • Reducing the dump/undump set point spread
  • Results of comparative efficiency tests

Design methodology

  • The fixed-displacement pump
  • The PWN on-off valve
  • Accumulator size


Appendix A- IDAS Enginerring lab equipment

Appendix B-Statistical data summeries

Appendix C-Corner point profile values

Appendix D-List of figures


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