Hydraulic manipulators are extensively utilized to move heavy loads in many industrial tasks. In commercial applications, a manipulator base is required to rotate a motion range of the full 360°. This is usually implemented by using a hydraulic rack and pinion gear actuator. Due to the manipulator’s long reach and heavy loads, manipulator tip acceleration can produce significant torque to the rotation gear in free-space motion. Imposed by nonlinear dynamical behavior (involving, e.g., the gear backlash and actuator friction) added to high inertia, a system closed-loop control design becomes a challenging task. An advanced closed-loop control enables to increase the automation-level of hydraulic manipulators. This study designs a novel subsystem-dynamics-based controller for a hydraulic rack and pinion gear actuator utilizing the control design principles of the virtual decomposition control (VDC) approach. An adaptive backlash compensation is incorporated in the control design. Furthermore, the proposed controller is implemented in previously-designed state-of-the-art hydraulic manipulator control. The stability of the overall control design is proven. Experiments with a full-scale commercial hydraulic manipulator demonstrate the effectiveness of the proposed adaptive backlash compensation and the overall control performance.

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