Welcome to vulcanhammer.info, the site about Vulcan Iron Works, which manufactured the durable air/steam line of pile driving equipment for more than a century. Many of its products are still in service today, providing reliable performance all over the world. There’s a lot here, use the search box below if you’re having trouble finding something. Also look at the end of an article, there are helpful links to more information with every post.
The durability and longevity of Vulcan pile hammer is something that is seldom replicated in just about any other manufactured product. Since pile driving is self-destructive on the equipment, this is a remarkable achievement, but it should be tempered by the fact that it’s possible to render a Vulcan hammer inoperable by the way it’s used. There are many things that can make this happen–inadequate or nonexistent hammer cushion material or lubrication to mention two–but the one thing that Vulcan decided to include in its warranty was the blow count specification.
Recording the blow count–the number of hammer blows per inch, foot or metre of pile advance–is virtually universal on pile driving jobs. The dynamic formulae basically translated blow count into pile capacity. While anyone familiar with pile dynamics understands that blow count is a crude measure of the response of a pile to impact, including a blow count specification is a good first measure of both the advance of the hammer and also how much energy is being returned to the hammer, which is a case of hammer damage.
High blow counts indicate that more and more of the energy was going back into the hammer rather than into the pile, thus increasing the danger of hammer damage. They also indicate that pile top stresses increase with higher blow counts, as the movement of the pile to mitigate the maximum impact force decreases. Thus high blow counts just to get the pile to tip elevation without considering changes in hammer or basic drivability considerations is a losing proposition.
Vulcan hammers are designed to withstand a continuous driving resistance of 120 blows/foot (400 blows/meter). In addition to this, Vulcan hammers will withstand refusal driving resistance of 300 blows/foot (1000 blows/meter) for five (5) consecutive feet (1500mm) of penetration. Any resistances experienced in excess of these are beyond rated capacity and will void the warranty. This definition is not an exclusive definition of excess of rated capacity and other criteria may apply.
1 Specification applies to all Vulcan offshore hammers, not just those listed in this catalog.
Blow count limiting warranty specifications are not an absolute method to prevent hammer abuse, but they’re a good start, and Vulcan used them to the advantage of itself, its end users and the owners of the projects where Vulcan hammers were used.
The best known setup for pile driving equipment is a crane and a set of full-length (of the pile and hammer) leaders, attached to the crane in a variety of ways. But another alternative is to use a “stub” leader, i.e., one that is very short, and a template to align, position and guide the pile. This is traditionally associated with steel piling, so we’ll look at this first.
A Vulcan 040 driving pile off of Ingram’s barge, 1966.
Another 060 driving pile for McDermott, February 1976. Photos in the same sequence as this one graced Vulcan’s literature during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, including Vulcan’s one and only Spanish brochure.
Vulcan 060 driving pile. The leaders are typical Vulcan construction, using beam yokes and pipe legs, with the forward legs as support for the H-beams that actually guided the hammer. The platform acts as a driving template; the ability to use a stub leader made pile driving much simpler. It was not until the early 1980’s that Vulcan took the lead of platform designers and used a light weight, pipe construction leader. Note also that the pipe is marked; this made taking the blow count easier. As the pile was driven in to the sea bed, the number of blows per foot were recorded to help insure that the pile had the resistance to load (uplift was most important with offshore platforms) it needed to keep the platform in place.
Another view of Santa Fe’s Vulcan 560 at work. This wasn’t the ideal way to lean the hammer, but one of the things that make Vulcan hammers popular was their ability to perform when misused or mishandled.
A Vulcan 560 in Vulcan manufactured offshore leaders driving pile for the Korean contractor Daelim in 1991. Although Vulcan would have considered this an “onshore” job, it is a classic example of an offshore style hammer used to install a steel jacket. Note that the jacket is acting as the template, which in turn aligns and positions the piles. The leader and hammer assembly is lowered through the conical, adjustable stabbing bell and than the pile is threaded onto the pile cap, the assembly assuming the batter of the piles. The assembly is suspended from the hinged lifting bale at the top of the leaders. As the hammer drives the pile, the leaders are lowered to keep up with the hammer’s progress.
For these hammers the platform itself is the template, the piles are driven from the top through the legs. Most conventional platforms had angled legs so the hammers almost invariably drove on a batter, which gave rise to the “stick-up” problem, more about that below.
But using stub leaders and a template isn’t restricted to steel piles; it has also been done on concrete piles, as can be seen below.
Misener Marine using a Vulcan 010 hammer in a stub leader with a template aligning the concrete piles (as can be seen at the water line) at Port Canaveral, November 1974.
Cleary Brothers Construction, West Palm Beach, FL, driving 20″ sq. prestressed concrete piles on a batter with a Vulcan 0R operated with an Ingersoll-Rand 600 CFM compressor and a barge mounted Lima Crane on 1220′ bridge across St. Johns River between Seminole and Volusia Counties, State Road 46. Courtesy of Dixie Contractor.
A Vulcan 020 getting ready to drive concrete cylinder piles for the Fort Randall Bridge Project, 10 October 1963. The contractor was Peter Kiewit & Sons. The stub type leaders were fabricated by Conmaco. This setup also included suspension type cables at the top of the hammer. It presaged most of Vulcan’s offshore setups during the next several decades.
Vulcan 535 hammer driving piles near Trenton, NJ, during the mid-1990’s. The contractor was Bellezza. A template was used (below the bottom of the photo) to align the concrete cylinder pile.
Vulcan 530 Offshore style hammer in Vulcan offshore style leaders being lifted to drive concrete cylinder piles in Dover, DE, June 1998. You can see the template at the bottom of the photo surrounding the concrete pile. The template is maintaining the pile at a plumb (vertical) angle during driving. The job included some predrilling and that helps to align the pile as well.
Warrington-Vulcan hammer driving square concrete piles on a batter. Note that the hammer is suspended directly from the crane, and that the leaders are attached to the hammer. Pile is on a batter. Photo Courtesy of Miami Herald, permission granted by Kathyn Kelly.
From a contractor’s standpoint, handing hammers in stub leaders requires a considerable level of skill from the crane operator, but the weight savings and ability to handle the hammer in difficult situations makes the use of stub leaders, when possible, a very attractive option.
Engineering Aspects of Stub Leaders
From the photos above, you can see that piles can be driven with stub leaders either plumb or on a batter. Plumb piles are not much different with stub leaders than with conventional leaders: the key is to have the hammer straight and square on the pile, which means that the leader setup should be balanced to hang straight and side forces on the hammer be avoided.
With batter piles, since the offshore industry used them (and still does) intensively, the most complete specification for such piles is the American Petroleum Institute’s RP2A specification. With stub leaders the pile basically supports the hammer during driving, and the hammer in turn loads the pile with both the impact loads and the static load of the hammer assembly, which in turn acts both parallel and perpendicular to the axis of the pile. Basically there are two important engineering aspects to configuring driving batter piles with stub leaders on a template:
Column buckling due to the weight of the hammer acting on the axis of the pile.
Beam loading of the hammer due to the component of the weight which acts perpendicular to the axis of the pile. This creates a cantilever beam with a maximum bending moment at the template. Obviously the weight of the hammer assembly (along with the weight of the pile) will induce bending stresses. These stresses are both tensile and compressive, and both are important to the structural integrity of the pile during driving. The template must also be designed to handle the loads and moments on its structure.
With steel piling, the combined weights of hammer assembly and pile limit the permissible length of the “stick-up” of the pile. Steel piles are easily spliced and added on to, so piles which are much longer than the stick-up can be drive. (Piles which are much longer than practical lengths of conventional leaders can be driven as well.) With concrete piles, these can be splices but there is less flexibility and less resistance to bending moment with splices, which limit the possibilities of driving these with stub leads on a batter. (The ability or lack thereof of concrete to withstand bending stresses also complicates the situation.)
One more important point: the weight of the hammer assembly cannot generally be assumed to be at the pile head, but above it. That’s why the center of gravity information is so important for offshore driving, which led to Vulcan tips such as this.
Although Vulcan exported its pile driving equipment from the start, it was it’s foray into the offshore oil business that gave Vulcan a truly international perspective. That perspective put some of the world’s “hot spots” into its field of interest, and two of them are very active these days: Hong Kong and the Straits of Hormuz.
The UK’s decision to return the entire colony to the People’s Republic when the lease on the “New Territories” (the area of Hong Kong north of Kowloon and excluding that and Hong Kong Island) expired in 1997 was formalised in 1984; however, rumours swirled about a handover years before. The attitude of Vulcan’s business associates towards such a reintegration was bluntly summarised by one of them: “They’ll screw it up.” The contrast between the state socialism of the People’s Republic and the free-wheeling capitalism of Hong Kong was pretty stark, and it was hard to imagine that the former would allow the latter to go on in the same way for any length of time.
Up to now the PRC has surprised many people with the relatively light hand they’ve actually had on Hong Kong. Some of that was the desire of the PRC to have Hong Kong be a “model province” for the “capitalist roaders” in the rest of the country, an incentive for economic development. Another factor was to make the reintegration of the greatest “wayward” region–Taiwan–more attractive to those on the island. Still another was the PRC’s desire to maintain Hong Kong as an economic powerhouse and thus contribute to the country’s overall prosperity.
Such desires have butted up against two things: the linking of Hong Kong’s people of free expression to economic freedom, something the mainland has avoided, and recent changes in the Chinese leadership. Now the latent conflict of the two is out in the open. The Chinese leadership will have to tread carefully; if they don’t, they could fulfil my business associate’s prophecy and China will be the worse for it.
The Straits of Hormuz has been the central “choke point” of world oil shipments for many years. The Persian Gulf is ringed by oil-rich nations and 20% of the world’s oil supply passes through it. That vulnerability really came into public consciousness with the Yom Kippur War and the first “oil crisis” of 1973. It wouldn’t take much to mine or otherwise sabotage the Straits of Hormuz, which increased the Western military interest in the place.
The countries that ring the Gulf have been aware of this vulnerability for a long time. Saudi Arabia built its Yanbu oil terminal on the Red Sea in an attempt to provide an alternative to the Straits. Vulcan’s first contact with and sale to the Korean contractor Hyundai was due to the fact that they were contracted to build this terminal and need pile driving equipment to accomplish it. On the other side Iran was looking to build a major port at Chabahar on the Indian Ocean using Vulcan’s long-time customer Brown and Root, but the 1979 Revolution stopped that effort. (The Islamic Republic built a port there, currently operated by India.)
With the Sunni-Shia divide and the ill-conceived war in Iraq (which deprived the two sides of a buffer) the Straits had opponents on both sides, and it was only a matter of time before it would become a hot spot once again.
The amazing thing in both these situations is not that they’re points of conflict, the amazing thing is that it has taken as long as it has to reach the current situation.
This site has never had an “advertising budget” but in the last decade the publisher Pile Buck gave it the opportunity to advertise itself in its books Sheet Pile Design by Pile Buck and Pile Driving by Pile Buck. There were five in the series, and this is the first, using the assembly of the […]
The ad above is another Offshore Technology Conference ad from the early 1970’s. It was aimed at its industry: the oilfield was well endowed with hard-drinking, card-playing people, a simple fact that doesn’t fit into some peoples’ idealisation of the past. The onshore construction industry wasn’t much different, although the higher risks–and rewards–of the oilfield made everything more intense.
In my last message, I ended with a different, more positive view on the news in our current world situation. This time, I am going to do another first: a book review. The book is Seven Men and The Secrets of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas.
Certainly advice on engineering techniques, safety practices and legal tips are very important for our pile driving business; however, personal character development is also something to consider for most. You may or may not know of all the seven men in this book, but the ones you thought you knew are viewed from a very different standpoint than how you probably learned about them in school. The book focuses on their complete reliance on their spiritual calling. Since this is not a government publication, I can use the word God.
For instance, everyone knows about George Washington and the story of the cherry tree. However, did you know that he was a deeply religious man and that he relied on his faith in helping him make decisions? He prayed on his knees several times a day with a Bible before him. Washington believed that God had a special purpose for his life and that providence saved him from being killed. In one battle alone, three horses were shot out from under him and he had bullet holes through his hat and clothing. He empowered his men with God-filled inspiration and they would follow him anywhere. I bet you never read that in grade school.
Another man mentioned is Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. I recently watched the movie about his story, 42. Again, the movie didn’t really focus on Robinson’s critical reliance on his faith in God to be able put up with and finally put down all the Jim Crow nonsense. He had extraordinary athletic talent in basketball, football, baseball, tennis and track and field. Robinson also had a tendency for anger explosions dealing with racial injustices. His mother and preacher led to a deeper faith that controlled his anger and justice allowed would him only to be see won that with the restraint path to and love. The manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers was an extremely religious person who was looking for this sort of man: someone talented in baseball, but who also had a strong, Bible-based character. Everyone knows the rest of the story, but generally not the one centered on God.
In the business world, sometimes we get too caught up in our challenges with competition, problems with equipment, governmental codes, etc. We just need to stop and look up like these men did – to result in your success and happiness.
Like the 060 and even more the 040, the 3100 was a major step up for the company. Even though it became the “gateway” to the company’s largest hammers, itself it was a dead end offshore for reasons that weren’t fully appreciated at the time, at least not by Vulcan or some of its end users.
The first 3100 was built for McDermott. Even though the 560 had been introduced earlier and was lighter for the same energy, McDermott felt that the traditional “heavy ram-low striking velocity” approach was better, and also had the crane capacity to handle this size of hammer. The hammer was ordered in the fall of 1973.
The road to completing the hammer was a rough one. That fall was the occasion of the first oil shock, which was great news and bad news at the same time. It was great news because the oil price spikes made the oil industry very active during that decade and early into the next one. It was bad news because the demands on the supply chain of foundries and forge shops, coupled with the energy shortages that resulted from the oil shock itself, made lead times immensely long. And, of course, patterns had to be built for all of the major castings.
The hammer was finally completed on 11 June 1975, but there was another twist: it was assembled on the deck of McDermott’s Derrick Barge 8 in Bayou Boeuf, Louisiana. Vulcan traditionally preferred to ship their hammers assembled, but freight and delivery issues forced this method. It was successful, not only making it simpler to ship the heavy hammer parts in pieces, but also to familiarize the end user’s personnel with the hammer itself. By the 1990’s it became the standard method of delivery for hammers going to the Gulf of Mexico.
A job well done: Jesse Perry (left) and Norris Tremmier stand beside the 3100 on the deck of McDermott’s DB 8 with the completed 3100, July 1975.
Vulcan brought three of its shop employees to help with the assembly: from left to right, Frank Wright, Sylvester Wright, and Leroy Beverly.
In spite of its difficult production road, the 3100 was successful from the beginning, with fewer of the “growing pains” that some of the earlier hammers had experienced.
Vulcan 3100 on McDermott’s DB 23, 1976.
Vulcan 3100 on the Hondo platform project, Santa Barbara, California.
As was the case with the 040, Vulcan used the hammer for advertising purposes, both then and many years later.
Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell gave little comfort when he told his subordinate “when the going gets tough…the tough get going.” The subsequent history of Watergate justified the lack of enthusiasm. Oblivious to this sad history, Vulcan had better success with the 3100, as this ad for the September 1975 issue of Offshore magazine bore out.
Evoking the hymn “Will the Circle be Unbroken” Vulcan Foundation Equipment, the IHC subsidiary that owned the product line assets through most of the “oughties,” used photos of the 3100 being picked up and driving piles for an ad.
The companion site vulcanhammer.net used this photo, showing the 3100 in the latter stages of assembly on McDermott’s DB 8, in its ad, which appeared in publication such as Pile Driving by Pile Buck. Note that the hammer is big enough so that there’s plenty of room for personnel to stand on top and inside of it.
The general assembly is below (the hammer was so large, it required a two-sheet drawing.)
In spite of its success the 3100’s main claim to fame was to be the basis for the 5100. Why was this so?
The first was obvious: the 560, virtually the same energy, was lighter and more economical to produce and operate. The second was that, with offshore high-impedance steel piling, the higher impact velocity, problematic with concrete and wood piles, was actually preferable, albeit harder on the hammer. The hammer never went much past its origin, in spite of the celebration that surrounded its inception.
Vulcan’s personnel brought back many colourful stories from the field. One of those came from Jesse Perry, Vulcan’s senior field service representative. Offshore pile driving is a brutal, unforgiving business; offshore piles are tip elevation piles, and the expediency of “beating the pile to death” to get done in the high hourly barge rates was hard on hammers, especially those new in the product line. One of those end users vented his frustration on Jesse, who responded by throwing his wallet on the table and telling the customer that he’d bet its contents that the hammer would work.
I never knew that Jesse ever lost his wallet in that way.
In a sense, however, Vulcan itself “threw its wallet on the table” with the 040 and 060 hammers; the 040, more than any other hammer, brought it in to the “big leagues” of offshore pile driving and, through its growing pains, made Vulcan the “stamp of quality offshore everywhere.”
First, the basics: the 040 specifications.
The first 040 was sold to Ingram in August 1965; below are some photos from their barge.
A Vulcan 040 driving pile off of Ingram’s barge, 1966.
Getting ready to pick up a Vulcan 040 on Ingram’s Derrick Barge #3, 1966
A crew boat comes along side of Ingram’s DB 3, 1966
A side view of a Vulcan 040 driving pile offshore in the Gulf of Mexico from Ingram’s DB 3, 1966. Note the batter (angle) of the pile. Batter conditions were standard for offshore piling and it was one reason why the environment was so hard on the equipment.
Looking down on the deck of Ingram’s DB 3 in the Gulf of Mexico, 1966.
Ingram personnel and equipment picking up their Vulcan 040, 1967. Note the absence of cables; the keyed hammers were ultimately unable to withstand the punishment of the offshore environment and were superseded by cables.
Many other offshore construction concerns joined Ingram in using the 040, including McDermott, Dragados, DeLong, Santa Fe, Movible Offshore (soon Teledyne Movible Offshore,) Fluor, Brown & Root, AGIP, Creole Petroleum (now PDVSA,) and Humble Oil.
The 040 was subject to many changes and variations in its early years. One of those was the addition of the Vari-Cycle energy selection system. This was the first 040 to feature Vari-Cycle, sold to Dragados, the Spanish contractor currently building an additional tunnel in the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in Virginia.
Some of the Chattanooga facility employees gathered around the 040, perhaps the first one, at the plant. In a suit and tie is Campbell V. Adams, Vulcan’s design engineer, whose 400C was the “parent” of the 040.
Anothe 040 ready to ship. Standing next to it is George C. Wandell, Vulcan’s design engineer during the early and mid-1970’s. He had worked for Raymond before that and would depart for Conmaco.
Just a little extra weight on the ram: the 044, a variant of the 040. Only one was built, for Tidewater Construction (now Skanska.)
The back side of the Dragados 040, at the Chattanooga facility.
Offshore wasn’t the only place where the 040 could be found. One of the most significant projects it was involved with was the long I-10 bridge across the Atchafalaya from Lafayette to Breaux Bridge, LA, built in 1969.
He retained his wallet; Jesse Perry, Vulcan’s field service manager, taking a break during the driving of the large concrete cylinder piles by the Vulcan 040 for the I-10 project for Prestressed Concrete Piles.
Lowering a capblock follower and concrete pile cap into the leaders at the Prestressed Concrete Pile project to build the I-10 bridge over the Atchafalaya, 1969.
The 040 in action installing the cylinder piles for the I-10 between Lafayette and Breaux Bridge, LA, 1969.
A close-up of the 040 cylinder during exhaust. The large hose is the steam hose that powers the hammer, the small hoses are the Vari-Cycle hoses that shift the trip shifter one way or the other to vary the stroke. The hose is connected to the hammer through a connector which is screwed in the large pipe caps on the double pipe flange in the front of the hammer.
A drawing showing it it’s done with the Vari-Cycle.
The 040 underwent many changes as it went along; early 040’s have many versions, as is evidenced by the general assemblies below.
Being the seminal hammer that it was, the 040 was useful for advertising, a usefulness that went past the Vulcan Iron Works itself.
Vulcan’s first offshore catalogue, Bulletin 65, with the 040 (probably Ingram’s) and the out-of-place drilling operation. The smaller hammers found themselves driving drilling casing from time to time, but the 040 was pretty much for jacket piles.
The 040 continues to dominate the cover with Bulletin 65. The hammer now sports cables and the many other improvements made during the early history of the machine.
The tradition continues: the Vulcanhammer.info Guide to Pile Driving Equipment, published in 2010, sported the 040 sold to Creole Petroleum (now PDVSA.)
In 1972, with the introduction of the 560, Vulcan decided to rename the 040 the 340 hammer. Vulcan also made some other important changes, such as moving to an iron (as opposed to a steel) ram. The first 340 was delivered to McDermott in early 1973. Specifications, a general arrangement and a photo are shown below. It turned out to be the last hammer the Vulcan Iron Works produced, sold to PDVSA in 2000.
Vulcan 340 S/N GC-8245, shipped to McDermott in February 1973.
Offshore Hammer, Onshore Style Leaders: the last Vulcan offshore hammer produced, a 340 for the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, starting up in 2000. Note that the leaders are fixed ones: this is to facilitate driving the large concrete cylinder piles used for platforms in Lake Maracaibo.
Vulcan frequently produced an ad for the Offshore Technology Conference. Probably the best one was the “Stamp Ad.” The “stamp of quality” theme had appeared in Vulcan’s literature for many years before that, but Vulcan’s graphic artist Carol Carr took it to a new level with this one in the early 1970’s. It was unusual in many respects; it was in colour (colour wouldn’t become standard in Vulcan literature until late in the decade) and it was an 11″ x 17″ fold-out.
Snippets of Carol’s artwork have been on this site since its beginning in 2007, such as the masthead below:
Most of our fluid mechanics offerings are on our companion site, Chet Aero Marine. This topic, and the way we plan to treat it, is so intertwined with the history of Vulcan’s product line that we’re posting it here. Hopefully it will be useful in understanding both. It’s a offshoot of Vulcan’s valve loss study in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, and it led to an important decision in that effort. I am indebted to Bob Daniel at Georgia Tech for this presentation.
Basics of Compressible Flow Through Nozzles and Other Orifices
Consider a simple orifice configuration such as is shown below.
The mass flow through this system for an ideal gas is given by the equation
mass flow rate,
throat area of orifice,
adjusted throat area of orifice (see below,)
upstream pressure, psfa
downstream pressure, psfa
ideal gas constant or ratio of specific heats for air
upstream absolute temperature
At this point we need to state two modifications for this equation.
First, we need to eliminate the density, which we can do using the ideal gas equation
Second, we should like to convert the mass flow rate into the equivalent volumetric flow rate for free air. Most air compressors (and our goal is to determine the size of an air compressor needed to run a test through this valve) are rated in volumetric flow of free air in cubic feet per minute (SCFM.) This is also the basis for the air consumption ratings for Vulcan hammers as well, both adiabatic and isothermal. This is accomplished by using the equation
Making these substitutions (with a little algebra) yields
In this article the coefficient of discharge is discussed. It is also the ratio of the effective throat area to the total throat area, or
We are basically considering the energy losses due to friction as an additional geometric constriction in the system.
One final–and very important–restriction on these equations is the critical pressure, given by the equation
The critical pressure is the downstream pressure for a given upstream pressure below which the flow is “choked,” i.e., the mass or volumetric flow rate will not increase no matter how much you either increase the upstream pressure or decrease the downstream pressure. This limitation, which was observed by Saint-Venant, is due to achieving the velocity of sound with the flow through the nozzle or valve. A more common way of expressing this is to consider the critical pressure ratio, or
As you can see, this is strictly a function of the ideal gas constant. It’s certainly possible to get around this using a converging-diverging nozzle, but most nozzles, valves or orifices are not like this, and certainly not a Vulcan 06 valve. We now turn to the analysis of this valve as an example of these calculations.
Application: the Vulcan 06 Valve
The first thing we should note is that pile driving equipment (except that which is used underwater) is designed to operate at sea level. Using this calculator and the standard day, free air has the following properties:
Temperature: 518.67 °R
Pressure: (or psfa)
Now let’s consider the valve for the 06 hammer (which is identical to the #1 hammer.) A valve setting diagram (with basic flow lines to show the flow) is shown below.
Note the references to steam. Until before World War II most of these hammers (along with most construction equipment) was run on steam. With its highly variable gas constant and ability to condense back to liquid, steam presented significant analysis challenges for the designers of heavy equipment during the last part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth. For our purposes we’ll stick with air.
There are two cases of interest:
The left panel shows the air entering the hammer and passing through the valve to the cylinder. Pressurising the cylinder induces upward pressure on the piston and raises the ram. The valve position (which shows the inlet port barely cracked) is shown for setting purposes; in operation the valve was rotated more anti-clockwise, opening the inlet port.
The centre panel shows exhaust, where air is allowed to escape from the cylinder. The piston is no longer pressurised and the ram falls to impact.
According to the vulcanhammer.info Guide to Pile Driving Equipment, the rated operating pressure for the Vulcan 06 at the hammer is 100 psig = 14,400 psfg = 16,516.22 psfa = 114.7 psia. For simplicity’s sake, we can consider the two cases as mirror images of each other. In other words, the upstream pressure in both cases is the rated operating pressure. This should certainly be the case during air admission into the hammer. For the exhaust, it should be true at the beginning of exhaust. Conversely, at the beginning of intake the downstream pressure should be atmospheric (or nearly so) and always so for exhaust.
From this and the physical characteristics of the system, we can state the following properties:
Upstream pressure = 114.7 psia
Downstream pressure = 14.7 psia
Upstream area (from hammer geometry, approximate)
Coefficient of Discharge, assuming sharp-edge orifice conditions
Adjusted throat area
At this point calculating the flow in the valve should be a straightforward application of the flow equations, but there is one complicating factor: choked flow, which is predicted using the critical pressure ratio. For the case where , the critical pressure ratio . Obviously the ratio of the upstream pressure and the downstream pressure is greater than that. There are two ways of considering this problem.
The first is to fix the downstream pressure and then compute the upstream pressure with the maximum flow. In this case 27.84 psia = 13.14 psig. This isn’t very high; it means that it doesn’t take much pressure feeding into the atmosphere to induce critical flow. It is why, for example, during the “crack of the exhaust,” the flow starts out as constant and then shortly begins to dissipate. The smaller the orifice, the longer the time to “blow down” the interior of the hammer or to fill the cylinder with pressurised air.
The reverse is to fix the upstream pressure and then to vary the downstream pressure. The critical downstream pressure is now 60.59 psia = 45.89 psig. This means that, when the cylinder is pressurising at the beginning of the upstroke, the cylinder pressure needs to rise to the critical pressure before the flow rate begins to decrease.
We will concentrate on the latter case. If we substitute everything except the downstream pressure (expressed in psia,) we have
If falls below the critical pressure, the flow is unaffected by the further drop and is constant. In this case the critical flow is 795 CFM. For downstream pressures above the critical pressure, the flow varies as shown below.
As noted earlier, when air is first admitted into the cylinder the flow is constant. Once the critical pressure ratio is passed, the flow drops until the two pressures are equal.
It is interesting to note that the rated air consumption of the hammer is 625 cfm. This is lower than the instantaneous critical flow. Although on the surface it seems inevitable that the hammer will “outrun” the compressor, as a further complication the hammer does not receive air on a continuous basis but on an intermittent one. For much of the stroke the compressor is “dead headed” and no air is admitted into the cylinder from the compressor. To properly operate such a device, a large receiver tank is needed to provide the flow when it is needed. The lack of such large tanks on modern compressors is a major challenge to the proper operation of air pile hammers.
All fluid flow in Vulcan hammers is regulated and directed by a valve. For most Vulcan hammers (the California series being a notable exception, the #5 is another) the valve is a Corliss type valve modified from those used in steam engines. Simple and reliable, it, like any other valve, is subject to losses as the air or steam passes through it. These are reflected in the mechanical efficiency of the hammer.
The losses due to air or steam flowing through the valve are generally not the most significant source of energy losses in a pile hammer. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, with the increase in sheer size of the hammers, these losses became of more concern. It was necessary to at least attempt to quantify these losses instead of using a “standard” back pressure value.
In May 1979 Vulcan contacted the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta about using a Vulcan #1 series valve (like used in the #1, 06, etc.) in a test to determine the losses of air flowing through these valves. At this point a major problem was encountered: the air flow required to properly test the valve was too large for Georgia Tech’s equipment. Reaching out to Lockheed didn’t help either; they couldn’t do it. At this point Vulcan came up with an alternative: use the DGH-100 valve, which was a Corliss valve albeit much smaller, for the test. Making things easier was the fact that the DGH-100 used a small aluminium valve chest, which made the valve mounting simpler.
This proved feasible and Vulcan received a proposal from Brady R. Daniel at Georgia Tech for these tests. The valve was tested in two “configurations”:
The tests were run and the report was presented in October 1980. The immediate results were as follows:
The report showed that the valve could be modelled essentially as a sharp-edge orifice. In the context of incompressible fluids, this is explained here.
A numerical method was developed to analyse the hammer cycle, as opposed to the closed-form solutions that had been used since the beginning of Vulcan pile hammers. This led to some design changes, and was also adapted for the Single-Compound hammer design.
The report also contained some suggestions for “streamlining” the design of the valve. These were not adopted, and the reason should be noted.
With the Corliss type valve, the Valve Port 1 is continuously pressurised, and this in turn forces the valve against the valve chest (or liner in the case of most newer Vulcan hammers.) With proper lubricant this seals the valve and further sealing (rings, seals, etc.) are unnecessary. This is a major reason why Vulcan hammers are as reliable as they are under the dire circumstances many operate. But that comes with a price. As with any design, there are trade-offs, and in this case the simplicity of the valve is traded off for efficiency. The simplest way to deal with this is to properly size the valve, and this was the main reason for the Valve Loss Study.
The Valve Loss Study is an interesting example of design analysis (others are here) which even an old product line like Vulcan’s can benefit from.