Basics of Pilot Operated Solenoid Valves
A solenoid valve has two main parts: the solenoid and the valve. The solenoid converts electrical energy into mechanical energy which, in turn, opens or closes the valve mechanically. A direct acting valve has only a small flow circuit, shown within section E of this diagram (this section is mentioned below as a pilot valve). In this example, a diaphragm piloted valve multiplies this small pilot flow, by using it to control the flow through a much larger orifice.
Solenoid valves may use metal seals or rubber seals, and may also have electrical interfaces to allow for easy control. A spring may be used to hold the valve opened (normally open) or closed (normally closed) while the valve is not activated.
A- Input side
C- Pressure chamber
D- Pressure relief passage
E- Electro Mechanical Solenoid
F- Output side
The diagram to the right shows the design of a basic valve, controlling the flow of water in this example. At the top figure is the valve in its closed state. The water under pressure enters at A. B is an elastic diaphragm and above it is a weak spring pushing it down. The diaphragm has a pinhole through its center which allows a very small amount of water to flow through it. This water fills the cavity C on the other side of the diaphragm so that pressure is equal on both sides of the diaphragm, however the compressed spring supplies a net downward force. The spring is weak and is only able to close the inlet because water pressure is equalized on both sides of the diaphragm.
Once the diaphragm closes the valve, the pressure on the outlet side of its bottom is reduced, and the greater pressure above holds it even more firmly closed. Thus, the spring is irrelevant to holding the valve closed.
The above all works because the small drain passage D was blocked by a pin which is the armature of the solenoidE and which is pushed down by a spring. If current is passed through the solenoid, the pin is withdrawn via magnetic force, and the water in chamber C drains out the passage D faster than the pinhole can refill it. The pressure in chamber C drops and the incoming pressure lifts the diaphragm, thus opening the main valve. Water now flows directly from A to F.
When the solenoid is again deactivated and the passage D is closed again, the spring needs very little force to push the diaphragm down again and the main valve closes. In practice there is often no separate spring; the elastomer diaphragm is molded so that it functions as its own spring, preferring to be in the closed shape.
From this explanation it can be seen that this type of valve relies on a differential of pressure between input and output as the pressure at the input must always be greater than the pressure at the output for it to work. Should the pressure at the output, for any reason, rise above that of the input then the valve would open regardless of the state of the solenoid and pilot valve.