Rock star of digging

May 4, 2012
Low-speed, high-torque hydraulic motors and innovative valve design give rotary drive clear advantages over its competitors.

Digga dubs itself Australia’s premier attachment manufacturer. But these aren’t just empty words. Established in 1981, Digga pioneered pendulum drilling in Australia and is Australia’s leading manufacturer of planetary drive boring and trenching attachments for construction and other heavy industries. Digga offers more than 80 different attachments, an extensive line of replacement parts, and service.

The high power capability, compact design, and reliability of Digga’s equipment is typified in its I-Drive system that mates with Digga’s high torque planetary gearboxes. The I-Drive is designed to fit 18 to 50 ton excavators for installing ground screw anchors, core barrelling, foundation drilling, and similar high-torque operations.

Attached to the boom of an excavator, the MD200 (200,000 Nm) 4-motor I-Drive is used for tasks including core barreling, screw anchoring, and foundation drilling. The compact I-Drive allows these operations to be performed in confined areas and close to existing structures.

The I-Drive can take full advantage of the hydraulic flow capabilities of an excavator producing up to 1000 lpm to deliver a maximum torque of 300,000 Nm and 240 kW. That’s actually more hydraulic power than most excavators can provide, so the I-Drive has a built-in margin of safety while delivering up to 300% greater productivity than currently available systems.

A Digga official explained, “I-Drive technology allows us to harness the total available hydraulic power of the host machine, essentially increasing productivity up to 300% over previously available drive systems. We like to think of the design as being ‘bullet-proof’ and immune to operator errors that can damage power heads that aren’t as robust as the I-Drive.”

Rugged, simple, compact

Digga set out to design a compact, high-capacity power head that was significantly more tolerant of abuse than others on the market. But they also wanted to provide the additional benefit of substantially higher productivity.

A power head is attached to the boom of an excavator to generate high-torque rotation for the task at hand. Conventional power head designs require three or more hose connections (including case drains), which make them difficult to attach and set up in the field. They also require an operator to modulate the excavator’s hydraulic output to keep it within the typical 250 lpm flow common to these units.  

The Award-Winning Digga I-Drive power head uses four Eaton 6000 Series motors and a screw-in cartridge valve-based manifold. The compact I-Drive is more than 300% more productive than competitive systems. (Model UD300 shown with hood assembly removed to reveal the four motors and manifold system.)

Digga designed the I-Drive to survive the heavy-duty use and potential abuse that construction equipment is usually subjected to. One way to achieve this goal is to keep the design simple. Digga’s I-Drive power head requires no complex hose, valve, or filtration arrangements. And because its motors have no case drain, the I-Drive does not require a third hydraulic line, which conventional drive heads do. In service, the design has been immune to operator errors that can damage less robust power heads.

Digga’s I-Drive uses valves and motors from Eaton Hydraulics to meet its design challenges. It is designed around multiple Eaton 6000 Series disc valve motors, resulting in a compact unit that is extremely tolerant of contamination. Henry J. Szota, of Eaton Hydraulics Group, Tullamarine, Vic., Australia,  explained that the radial- and axial-piston motors widely used for this application typically tolerate contaminant particles sized to about 15-25 µm or 5-10 µm, respectively. However, the 6000 Series motors can operate with contaminant particles as large as 25 to 40 µm.

The compact 6000 Series motors use Eaton’s Geroler based design, whereby rolls seal the space between a rotating “star” and stationary gear ring. A rotary disc directs fluid into the void between the star and ring, causing the star to rotate and giving the motor its name.

Szota revealed, “This design accommodates high flow rates and high pressures while providing high starting and low-speed torque characteristics. The Geroler design is inherently more efficient than standard gerotor designs for two reasons. First, the rollers provide tighter sealing between the moving parts. Second, the rolling action creates less friction than the sliding motion of gerotor designs.”

Digga engineers also designed a screw-in cartridge valve manifold system to control flow to the I-drive four disc valve motors. The manifold simplifies operation by allowing the operator to selectively engage and disengage motors to provide variable speed and torque.

Dealing with decompression

The manifold system also contains a Digga-designed and patented flow-reversal bypass valve, dubbed a “swoosh” valve, to control fluid decompression. Fluid decompression is inherent to screw anchoring and similar operations and occurs when torque load on the rotating tool drops sharply and suddenly. The hydraulic motor normally encounters high resistance to rotation from the load, so fluid pressure rises. Hose and tubing expands in response to the high fluid pressure, and the fluid itself may compress. (Hydraulic fluid is often assumed incompressible, but it is not. A fluid’s bulk modulus serves as a measure of a fluid’s resistance to compressibility.)

If a bit breaks through or fractures a rock, the torque load will suddenly drop to near zero. The compressed fluid will then release its stored energy, causing a violent surge in motor velocity. The swoosh valve compensates for this fluid decompression to smooth out flow surges.

Continuing success

The Digga I-Drive was recognized with an “Australian International Design Award” in 2009 as one of the year’s “best examples of Australian design and innovation, and the high quality of design expertise available to manufacturers in Australia and internationally.”

The I-Drive is available in four standard sizes for handling maximum flow of 375, 500, 750, and 1000 lpm, and maximum torque rating of 300,000 Nm. They come in single-, dual, and three-speed configurations to deliver high speed/low torque, mid-speed/mid torque, or low speed/high torque operation.

For information on the I-Drive, visit or email [email protected].

An alternative to piston motors

Gerotor and Geroler hydraulic motors are low-speed, high-torque (LSHT) devices often used in direct-drive applications. Deepak Ganapathy, of Eaton’s Hydraulics Group, Eden Prairie, Minn., said they are available in sizes small enough to compete with electric servomotors to moderately large ones that would compete with small and mid-size piston-type motors.

Ganapathy explained that Eaton’s Char-Lynn gerotor and Geroler motors have an inner rotor, called the “star,” and a non-concentric outer rotor. The star and the outer rotor have an unequal number of teeth. The volume of the spaces between the teeth of the two rotors changes continuously during each complete cycle. Pressurized fluid flows into a small cavity that expands into a larger space, creating torque on the shaft attached to the inner rotor as the rotors turn.

Eaton’s Char-Lynn motors are based on what its developer, Lynn Charlson, called the orbit principle — which gives them their high power density, modularity and economical design. The orbit principle describes the motion of the star in both gerotor and Geroler motors as it rotates inside the stationary outer rotor.

Geroler motors use a roller in the spaces between the rotors, whereas the two rotors contact each other in gerotor motors. Geroler motors are more efficient because the rolling friction between the rotors is less than the sliding friction between the rotors in a gerotor motor.

Ganapathy said that the choice between a gerotor and Geroler motor is based on duty cycle and cost for most applications. The Geroler design is more efficient, has a longer service life, and is more expensive. The gerotor design is, in many cases, “good enough” and less costly.

Another factor to consider is operating pressure, which determines the type of valve for controlling flow through the motor. The choices are:
· spool valves for pressures up to 2000 psi,
· disc valves for pressures up to 3000 psi, or
· valve-in-star and high pressure for continuous operation at 4500 psi and higher.

Ganapathy explained that the higher efficiency of Geroler motors is important in applications like the Digga I-Drive, where space and power-density are critical factors. “The 6000 medium-pressure disc valve motors are very compact for their torque output, as well as being considerably less costly than a radial-piston motor with the same capacity. Geroler motors deliver very smooth low-speed performance, which is also important in applications like the Digga I-Drive. These motors have a low no-load pressure drop due to their relatively large fluid passages, which causes them to generate less heat.”

Whether gerotor, Geroler, or radial piston, low-speed, high-torque motors typically do not require a gear box to reduce speed and increase torque. Ganapathy  said that based on power density, cost, and reliability, this makes them a better choice than an axial-piston motor with gear box in space-constrained applications like the Digga I-Drive.

Click here for more information on Eaton’s Geroler motors.

Continue Reading

BOOK 2, CHAPTER 12: Fluid Motor Circuits

March 18, 2009
Table of Contents

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The proper use of air-line lubricators helps ensure better overall performance and longer equipment life.

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