Are aluminum hydraulic manifold block good? AM technology enables design freedom.

Manufacturing Aluminum Hydraulic Manifold Block in some cases offers the advantage of light weight, but also has the disadvantage of not being abrasion resistant. Additive Manufacturing (AM) technology is able to create internal features and channels that are ideal for manifold design and manufacturing.

Working with the customer, Renishaw redesigned their current hydraulic manifold using additive manufacturing techniques. Weight was minimized without compromising the robustness of the components. Additive manufacturing offers a high degree of design freedom, which designers can capitalize on to improve flow path efficiency.

Conventional manufacturing method for hydraulic manifolds

Traditionally, the manufacture of aluminum hydraulic manifold block begins with cutting and machining aluminum or stainless steel blanks to the required dimensions, followed by drilling holes to form fluid flow channels. Special tools are often used due to the complexity of drilling the holes. Plugs are also required within the channels to properly route the fluid through the system.

Limitations inherent in the manufacturing process can cause abrupt corners to form between adjacent flow channels, resulting in poor and or stagnant fluid flow.

Original hydraulic manifold

Aluminum hydraulic manifold blocks have poor abrasion resistance, and any dropped particles will scratch the channel surfaces and increase wear. For this reason, the use of stainless steel manifolds is sometimes preferable. However, stainless steel is denser and harder than aluminum alloys, and the weight and processing costs are significantly higher.

Advantages of using AM to design and manufacture hydraulic manifolds

  • Optimized flow paths for more efficient component functionality
  • Ability to fully utilize Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) methods to assist in the design process
  • Reduced need for fixtures
  • Streamlines the need for removable support structures
  • Significant weight reduction
  • No need for module removal access
  • Full design freedom to design manifolds with greatly reduced size

Direct benefits for clients

  • Mass reduction of up to 79 percent
  • Single-piece construction with fewer defects
  • Accelerated design and development iterations
  • Full compatibility with existing designs
  • 60% increase in flow efficiency

Redesign for Additive Manufacturing – Design Scope

The process of redesigning the components resulted in a number of design and functional requirements from the client that needed to be considered.

geometric figure

  • Defined connection port
  • Inner diameter of the flow channel
  • Wall thickness of flow channel
  • Fixed positions and interfaces


The customer’s main requirement was to reduce the weight of the components while keeping the stiffness and functionality intact. However, for the Aluminum Hydraulic Manifold Block, designers achieved this by reducing component weight but decreasing stiffness, while for the Steel Hydraulic Manifold Block, they achieved this by increasing stiffness but increasing weight.

First design iteration

They deconstructed the parts into the necessary channels to provide the hydraulic manifold function. Using CAD software, they extracted the flow paths of the original cross-drilled design and removed any unneeded drilled areas, leaving only the necessary piping network.

Subsequently, each hydraulic line was reduced and simplified. Engineers implemented optimization of the flow paths after identifying areas of poor fluid flow and stagnation through CFD analysis.

In this case, engineers generate wall thicknesses according to the specifications provided by the customer, which they can achieve by using a Finite Element Analysis (FEA) stress model based on the pressure readings taken during the CFD analysis.

Finally, they designed and added a permanent support structure to the CAD geometry to create an efficient self-supporting structure.

The first design iteration resulted in a 52% reduction in manifold volume and a 60% increase in flow efficiency over the original.

Second generation design iteration

The original manifold designers intended to use it in modules with multiple units mounted in series. Operators sometimes needed to remove individual hydraulic manifolds from the sequence for servicing, thus requiring threaded “module removal” access.

After the first iteration, the additively manufactured geometry allowed engineers to manually remove the manifolds without any tools, eliminating the need for a module removal channel.

The first iteration of the design was so much smaller than the original solid block that there were concerns that Iteration 1 might bend, torsionally deform, and/or vibrate during subsequent machining. The concern proved to be unwarranted. The second design iteration resulted in a final manifold volume that was only 21% of the original manifold, while further enhancing manifold stiffness.

This significant reduction in manifold volume allowed the use of a more suitable 316L stainless steel for the production of Iteration 2. After the second design iteration, engineers achieved a 37% reduction in the net weight of the manifold by machining with denser materials.

Summary of results

design phasematerialsVolume (cm³)quantity
Original Aluminum Hydraulic Manifold Blockaluminum960025.6
First design iteration of additive manufacturingaluminum4650(-52%)12.3
Additive Manufacturing Secondary Design Iteration316L stainless steel2040(-79%)11.3


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