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Intro To Custom Manifolds

Intro To Custom Manifolds_

Manifolds are precision machined parts used to distribute gasses and liquids within a system. Manifolds offer a simple and efficient design that’s used in vehicles, measurement tools, pressure regulators, and more.

In this article, we’ll share what manifolds are used for, the materials used to machine them, and the various types of manifolds.

Brief Overview of Manifolds

Manifolds are typically used to disburse a common supply of air, gasses, or fluids to multiple locations within an assembly. There is usually one input and multiple outputs. Manifolds are typically made from aluminum, brass, or steel, and they range from two-port designs to larger twenty-port manifolds. Manifolds usually have either tapered or straight mechanical pipe threads which connect the inputs and outputs.

The manifolds used for air typically look different than ones used for fluids. The specific materials used, designs, and measurements vary depending on what the parts are being used for, but the primary job of a manifold remains the same. 

These parts are used in a number of industries, including: 

  • Transportation
  • Measurement
  • Valve and Controls
  • Machine Tools
Here are a few examples of what custom manifolds can look like:
Examples of manifolds

What are manifolds used for?

As we mentioned before, a manifold is used to distribute gas or liquids. The simple design of manifolds helps save space, reduce costs, and increase efficiency.

Metal manifolds also provide a tight seal which decreases the chances of oil and air leaks, and provide a shorter flow path that helps maintain pressure in the system.

The medical industry uses manifolds in blood analyzers, lab equipment, and dialysis machines. The agriculture industry uses them in planters, tractors, and harvesters. Industrial industries use manifolds on forklifts and manufacturing equipment. The oil and gas industry uses manifolds with oil exploration, hydraulic fracturing, and extraction machinery. The ability to easily regulate fluid and airflow allows machined manifolds to be used nearly anywhere.

Spex primarily machines precision manifolds for measurement tools, vehicles, and machine tools.

Types of manifolds

There are a few different types of manifolds that each have unique advantages and use cases. The type that will work best for your system is based on several factors, such as how much space is available, the intended function of the system, budget, and more.

Gas manifold

A gas or pneumatic manifold is used to eliminate a large portion of tubing in a system, which results in minimal system complexity, quicker dismantling, less leakage, and lower maintenance costs.

You’ve likely seen a type of gas manifold if you’ve used an air compressor before. Gas manifolds connect a single source of air and safely distribute it across multiple channels. For example, a manifold lets you connect multiple air-powered tools to a single air compressor.

The manifold provides a safe and cost-effective connection from a gas supply line to high-pressure gas cylinders, increasing storage capacity and flow rate. The manifold also ensures gas purity by eliminating the need of a regulator directly onto a gas cylinder valve.

Pneumatic manifolds are made of brass, aluminum, stainless steel, and sometimes nylon polycarbonates, depending on the pressure requirements.

Hydraulic manifold

A hydraulic or liquid manifold is used to fluid flow between pumps and actuators and other components in a hydraulic system. The manifold allows operators to control how much fluid flows between components in a hydraulic machine.

For example, in a lot of construction machinery, like a backhoe or forklift, the hydraulic arm of the machine is controlled using levers in the cab. The levers act as switches for the manifold block, which transmits the fluid where it’s needed.

There are two distinct types of hydraulic manifold blocks: mono-block and modular block designs.

A mono-block design is a hydraulic manifold machined out of a single piece of steel or aluminum, or pieced together from layers of metal. The valves and channels are milled before the layers are put together. In the case of a single piece of steel being used, the machining needs to be done carefully to avoid splitting or damaging the block. Once the manifold has been assembled, the entire thing is sealed, creating one solid, watertight part.

The main advantage of a modular manifold is the ability to change configurations. These are usually made up of smaller components that can be added to or removed from the system. Different plates and valves can be added and removed from the system to achieve the desired result, making these systems much more adaptable than the mono-block.

Block and bleed manifold

A block and bleed manifold is a type of hydraulic manifold that combines a block valve, usually ball valves, and a bleed valve, into one component for interface with other components (pressure measurement transmitters, gauges, switches, etc.) of a hydraulic system.

The purpose of the block and bleed manifold is to isolate or block the flow of fluid in the system so the fluid coming into the manifold doesn’t reach other components of the system that are downstream. Then they bleed off or vent the remaining fluid from the system on the downstream side of the manifold.

Materials used for manifolds

Almost any type of metal can be machined into a manifold, but the three most common materials used are stainless steel, aluminum, and brass. When selecting the right metal for your project, you’ll need to consider the cost, strength, resistance to wear, and pressure.

The type of material used depends on the type of air or fluid flowing throughout the system it’s used in. Here are some examples of when you might use the various metals:

Stainless steel

Stainless steel manifolds are going to be the more durable option. In a high-pressure system (over 3,500 psi) using stainless steel rather than aluminum is necessary. You might also use a stainless steel alloy for the aesthetic look if the manifold will be visible.

The drawbacks of stainless steel are that it’s a more expensive material, and more difficult to machine which increases costs.


Aluminum manifolds are lightweight, easy to machine, and less costly overall. Typically aluminum is anodized, which provides a level of protection against corrosion. For larger hydraulic manifolds, aluminum is a great choice because it’s easier and faster to machine the inlets and outlets of the manifold. Aluminum is also about 1/3 of the weight of stainless steel, if weight is a factor.


Since most plumbing parts are made of brass, using a brass manifold can prevent leaks. When the temperature changes as water moves through the manifold, the same material has the same expansion rate. Mixing a steel manifold with brass plumbing parts could lead to more leaks if the brass expands more or less than the steel.

Brass is a durable material, heat resistant, and softer which makes installation easier.

You can reach out to our team if you need help deciding which material is best for your project.

Spex has the equipment and expertise to produce custom manifolds that fit your exact design. Our staff will work with your engineers to develop the most cost-effective manifold to meet your needs.

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