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Volvo and Norrhydro advance hydraulic technology


Pioneering electro-hydraulic solution set to significantly improve productivity and fuel efficiency in construction equipment

VOLVO Construction Equipment and Finland’s Norrhydro have developed a digital hydraulic actuator that is said to increase productivity while radically cutting fuel bills and CO2 emissions in construction equipment applications, and, if widely adopted, could help the industry meet its sustainability ambitions.

Although full details of the revolutionary technology are being closely guarded, Norrhydro say their patented NorrDigi system uses a multi-chamber digital hydraulic actuator that improves system efficiency such that much of a machine’s hydraulic system can be discarded or downsized. The technology 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.

Volvo CE and Norrhydro have signed a multi-year agreement whereby Volvo CE will continue to develop the technology in partnership with Norrhydro and subsequently aim for first-mover advantage. Volvo CE have exclusive rights to its use in their products during the development process.

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,’ said Peter Stambro, vice-president of 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 with a traditional system.’

Thomas Bitter, head of technology at Volvo CE, said: ‘This is a prime example of how partnerships with outside experts can accelerate our own sustainability journey through technical innovation. In research so far, the system shows greatest benefits in larger machines – in the case of excavators, those weighing 30 tonnes 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.’

With a Volvo EC300E 30-tonne 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 will be 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 commercialized products,’ said Yrjö Trög, chief executive officer 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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