Hydraulic manifolds are powerful and compact valve assemblies that do for hydraulics very much what integrated circuits do for computers: they create a system where a relatively simple set of hydraulic inputs can be used to create a startling array of hydraulic outputs. The end result is a single smallish chunk of machinery that replaces hundreds of feet of tubing, hose, fittings, and line-mounted valves. While hydraulics still use liquid rather than electrons – and thus a hydraulic manifold will never reach the staggeringly small size of a modern integrated circuit – they do squeeze a huge amount of functionality into a very small space.
That’s not the only advantage to a hydraulic manifold, however: there’s also the issue of leakage. That aforementioned hundreds of feet of tubing, valves, hose, and fittings means scores of individual parts each one of which can go wrong and cause a leak (which is a death sentence for a hydraulic machine). Hydraulic manifolds are prebuilt out of as few parts as possible for the various valves to do their jobs, and that means significantly less opportunity for leaking (and correspondingly less need to spend time and labor on fixing the leaks.)
Hydraulic manifolds also require less assembly, which means easier maintenance and troubleshooting, which again saves money on the project’s bottom line. With so many components built into or mounted upon a single common manifold, the need for a tech to climb all over Kingdom Come to find the leaky piece is dramatically reduced. Should the hydraulic manifold itself fail, there are dozens of identical units – swapping one out is the job of less than an hour, and that’s in poor circumstances. Furthermore, oftentimes the faulty manifold can be repaired on the spot and kept en situ as a swap-in replacement should something happen to the manifold that was just installed.
Modern hydraulic manifolds also provide advanced capabilities like load sensing, which allows the manifold itself to detect how much pressure is needed to lift a certain load and provide exactly as much as is needed, conserving hydraulic power to direct elsewhere for other jobs. Some such manifolds even have a hydraulic filter built into them so as to further reduce technician’s walking time. When everything is in one place, you waste a lot less time getting from wherever you are to where the problem is.