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How A Concrete Pump Works

A look at the valves and other components of piston pumps

hen renting or buying
a concrete piston
pump, you often hear
such terms as rock
valve, swing valve, or ball valve
used to describe a particular pump
type. What is the valves role in the
pumps operation and how do the
various valve types differ? Following is a brief description of the operation of a concrete piston pump
and how the different valve systems work.

The Pumping Operation

The concrete pumping operation starts with the discharge of
the concrete, usually from a ready
mix truck, into a hopper larg e
enough to hold a small supply of
f resh concre t e. In the hopper an
agitator keeps the fresh concre t e
flowing smoothly into the pumping cylinders.
Concrete piston pumps operate
on the same principle as a twincylinder reciprocating engine, in
which one cylinder draws concrete
from the hopper on the return
stroke and another pushes it on the
forward stroke into the line. Pistons
in both cylinders operate in opposite directions so there is constant
pressure on the concrete in the line
and uninterrupted flow. The pistons are driven by hydraulic cylinders powered by a hydraulic pump.
A synchronized valve enables concrete from the two cylinders to go
into one pump discharge line. This
valve is often used to distinguish
one type of pump from another.
A few common valve types, described here, are gate, rock, swing

tube, ball, or C tube. Some of these

valves are proprietary to individual
pump manufacturers and are only
found on their pumps. Manufacturers can provide further information about the performance capabilities and advantages of each


Gate Valve
Gate valves consist of two separate valves, one to control flow from
the hopper and another to control
flow into the line. As Figure 1 shows,
the gates are arranged so that the

pivots in such a way that the intake

cylinder is always open to the hopper and the pressure cylinder is
connected with the line (Figure 2).
During the return stroke of the
pumping piston the rock valve
swings to the intake cylinder, which
is on the forward stroke, exposing
the face of the intake cylinder to the
hopper. After the piston reaches the
end of its stroke, the rock valve
shifts to connect the pumping
cylinder with the line.

Swing Tube
piston on the return is connected
to the hopper while the gate to
the pump line is
closed. During the
f o rw a rd stroke the
gate to the hopper
closes and the gate
to the line opens,
allowing the concrete to be pushed
into the line.

Rock Valve
A rock valve is a
single element that

The swing tube is a single bent

tube that swings around the axis of
the line from one cylinder mouth to

the other (Figure 3). During the return stroke the swing tube is positioned so the intake cylinder is
open to the hopper and the piston
on the forward stroke is connected
to the line. When the travel of the
pistons re ve r s e s, the swing tube
shifts to align itself with the pumping cylinder.

one to the pump line opens, allowing the concrete to enter the pump
line. The two cylinders act in unison; while one is filling the other is
Mechanical. Some ball-va l ve
piston pumps have pistons that
are driven mechanically instead of
h yd ra u l i c a l l y. In a mechanically

Ball Valve


Hydraulic. A hydraulic-powe re d
piston pump with a ball valve has
two balls for each cylinder. When
the intake cylinder draws concrete
from the hopper, the ball located
between the hopper and the cylinder opens, allowing concrete to
pass. At the same time, this suction
draws the other ball to the pump
line, closing it off (Figure 4). Conversely, when the piston is pushing

concrete out of the cylinder, the

ball to the hopper closes and the

p owe red piston pump, the ball

valve works on one cylinder called
the pri m a ry cylinder. One ball
connects the cylinder to the hopper and the other regulates flow
from the cylinder to the manifold,
which is connected to the pump
line (Figure 5). During the intake
s t roke the piston in the pri m a ry
cylinder re t ra c t s, pulling the ball
connecting the cylinder to the
hopper down from its seat. This allows the concrete to pass between
the ball and the seat to fill the

cylinder. At the same time, the ball

connecting the cylinder to the
pump line manifold seats in its
seal, pre venting concrete in the
line from being drawn back into
the cylinder.
The moment the primary piston
reverses direction, the pressure
closes the ball to the hopper and
opens the ball to the manifold, allowing the piston to push concrete
out of the cylinder and into the line.
Back pressure from the line forces
a secondary piston back and fills
the cylinder. The secondary cylinder acts as a scavenger, taking part
of the already pumped concrete
from the primary cylinder and
pumping it into the line between
p ri m a ry cylinder pressure strokes.
This ensures smooth flow of concrete with no interruptions. The
primary cylinder pumps more material than the secondary cylinder
with this arrangement.

C Tube
The C tube is a valve that connects the face of each cylinder with
the line through a pipe that is bent

Piston - The piston is made of rubber or other hard material and
travels inside the cylinder. The piston seals the inside of the cylinder to
eliminate seepage and is driven by a hydraulic cylinder rod to exert pressure on the concrete.
Cylinder - Contains the concrete that is being pumped by
the piston.
Hopper - The part of t h ep u m p that receives and holds c o n c re t eb e f o re it
is sucked into the pumping cylinder.
Grate - Keeps l a rg e objects o u to f t h eh o p p e r for safety reasons.
Agitator - Device in the hopper, usually revolving paddles, that remixes
concrete and ensures optimum concrete flow toward the cylinders.

180 degrees (Figure 6). On the intake stroke, one cylinder is open to
the hopper for filling. When the piston reverses, the C tube moves over
to connect the cylinder with the
pump line. While one cylinder is
connected to the line by the C tube
the other is open to the hopper for
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