Understanding Pneumatics

3 mn read

What exactly are pneumatics?
Before we dig into the specifics of pneumatics, let’s pin down what we mean by ‘pneumatic’.

Simply put, pneumatics is the technology of compressed air. At its core, that’s how simple pneumatics are. They are also frequently referred to as automation controls. 

When pneumatics are in action, pressurised gas is used to make an end effector function. An end effector refers to the ‘hand’ section of a robot arm. The air that is used during this process may be dry or lubricated, depending on the circumstances.

Typically, engineers used pneumatics in the following industries:

  • Medical

  • Entertainment

  • Packaging

  • Robotics

  • Material Handling

Pneumatics can be particularly useful in situations where any hazards are critical or fatal. A perfect example of this is within mining machinery – a stray spark from machines can trigger fatal disaster. With air, there are far less risks as air is easily compressible. As a result, pneumatic systems are typically able to absorb excessive shock. It’s common for pneumatics to be used when smaller loads are involved.

Pneumatic systems usually utilise an air compressor to reduce the volume of air within an area. This affects the pressure level of the pneumatic system. Once the pressure has been set, the pressurised gas travels through the equipment using pneumatic hoses. During this journey towards the actuator, the gas is controlled by valves. 

When using pneumatic systems, it’s critical that the air supply itself is under constant observation. Air supplies need to be monitored and filtered constantly to ensure the pneumatic systems are operating at peak efficiency. By performing this ongoing maintenance, pneumatic you’re more likely to extend the usage life of your systems. 

Are there alternatives to pneumatics?
One of the main alternatives is electromechanical actuators. Typically, electric actuators are more energy efficient when compared with pneumatics, making them a popular alternative.

Many people prefer to use pneumatic systems in their manufacturing processes because of their low cost, but recently people have begun to question the sustainability of funding compressed air based systems.

Whilst the pneumatic actuators themselves are not prone to decay or damage, there is a common problem occurring across the industry in regards to piping designs and air leaks throughout the plant. It is therefore likely that any increased cost for pneumatic systems is linked to the upkeep of the piping systems rather than the actual component itself.

However, pneumatic systems shouldn’t be overlooked or undervalued. They’re well known for being far more flexible than electromechanical systems in regards to mounting options. Electric actuators have specific mounting styles whilst pneumatic actuators’ mounting abilities are more likely to adapt to the need of the application.

As we mentioned earlier, the environment that the component will operate in plays a huge role in the selection of a pneumatic actuator. If we use our earlier example, the mining industry needs to carefully consider the risks associated with each different actuator. It is likely that an electrical actuator is not the best fit for mining equipment because of the risks that sparks pose in that environment. Plus, running an electrical current to the actuator may not always be ideal, so environment is a huge factor to consider when comparing actuator types because it can literally be the difference between life and death. 

There are multiple pros and cons to both options, which means that manufacturers need to weigh up their priorities against the benefits and drawbacks of both actuator systems. 

Using pneumatic actuators in the automotive industry

In today’s world, the automotive industry relies on four core values and factors: speed, intelligence, safety and reliability. Within the automotive industry, manufacturers rely on a varying array of pneumatic systems to deliver services across the production line and the assembly process. 

In the 21st Century, manufacturers are using pneumatic components alongside advanced software systems to cover a variety of tasks and actions across the manufacturing journey. These range from individual tasks to managing the overall manufacturing process. 

Here is a clear overview of the different pneumatic actuators that are used across the varying parts of the manufacturing journey in the automotive industry: 

Engine/Power train:

  • Vacuum technology

  • Cabinets

  • Actuator

  • Manipulator

Body shop:

  • Servo-pneumatic systems

  • 7 axis systems

  • HIP

  • Valve technology

  • Profi Net

  • I/O Repeaters

  • Fluid preparation

  • RIP

  • Profi Net

  • Clamp cylinder

Final assembly:

  • Vacuum technology

  • Manipulator

  • Actuator

  • Cabinets

Press shop:

  • valve technology

  • Profi Net

  • Pin clamp cylinder

  • I/O Repeaters

  • Clamp cylinder

  • Power clamp cylinder

  • Cabinets

  • vacuum technology

Paint Shop:

  • Cabinets

  • Valve technology

  • Special solutions

  • Clean room components 

Pneumatics are regularly used within the automotive industry because they offer a range of benefits for the manufacturer. They are reliable products, which means they have a reduced cost and downtime in relation to maintenance and faults. They also have larger strokes than competitors, increasing the accuracy and speed of their process.

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what pneumatics are, where they’re used, and how they function. 


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