Explaining the Basic Principles of Pneumatic Systems
The Basics of Fluid Power Systems
Fluid power is a way to move big stuff, move it fast, and do it in a really small package. Fluid power uses a gas or liquid under pressure to move a piston or shaft to do work.
Pneumatic and hydraulic systems, otherwise referred to as fluid power systems, function based on interplay between competing forces. Fluid power means transmitting power, converting power to a usable form and transferring the power to where it’s needed. Fluid power systems use liquids (hydraulic systems) and gases (pneumatic systems) to transmit power.
Why Choose Fluid Power Systems over Electrical or Mechanical Systems?
Fluid power produces linear motion using pneumatic or hydraulic cylinders as opposed to electrical and mechanical methods. You don’t need electrical power for fluid power systems, eliminating the risk of shocks, fire, sparks or even explosions. They do not use electricity to operate, meaning a large and expensive explosion proof case is not needed.
Pneumatic systems will simply stall when broken instead of possibly exploding like electrical motors. Medical facilities also use pneumatics in place of hydraulics for the same reason as food manufacturers. They are much safer and cause almost no contamination if they break.
Pneumatics are also favored for their resistance to heat; electric motors are prone to overheating but with gas, pneumatic systems do not produce nearly as much heat due to the compressed air constantly carrying heat away.
Understanding the Difference Between Pneumatic and Hydraulic Systems
The important principles of pneumatics are essentially the same as hydraulic systems, but there are several distinctions to keep in mind.
- Pneumatics utilizes gas instead of liquid to transfer power
- Because gas can be compressed, there is a delay in movement in pneumatic systems
- Pneumatics generates higher energy costs due to energy lost from heat production during compression
- Hydraulics handles greater force than pneumatics
Air is pumped into a receiver and compressed, ready to be used by the pneumatic system as needed. The air taken from the area around the compressor is filled with contaminants such as dirt, dust and water vapor. To combat this, strong filters are installed keep the air clean and dry.
Advantages of Pneumatics over Hydraulics
The use of gas offers pneumatics several advantages over hydraulics.
- Pneumatics are used in food applications more often than hydraulics because there is less chance for contamination, whereas hydraulics are used in industrial equipment for their power and control.
- Pneumatic systems are common in medicinal facilities due to their range of sizes; they are installed where space cannot be taken up by large equipment.
- Lower pressures in pneumatic systems make them more appropriate for components made of lighter and thinner materials like plastics and aluminum. Hydraulic systems work better for parts made of steel or ductile/gray cast iron
- Positioning accuracy rivaling electromechanical applications can be achieved in pneumatics through electronic controls. As a result, chemical plants favor pneumatic systems for their precision over hydraulics and electromechanical systems. Fluid power systems combined with electronics adds incredible control and flexibility to pneumatics
The use of pneumatics technology has led to advances in medical and industrial technology which were previously unheard of.
Applications of Pneumatic Systems
Factory automation is the most common sector for pneumatics operations, most packaging and manufacturing requires precise, repetitive movement and pneumatic systems are perfect for those applications. Pneumatics are capable of much more than just fast repetitive motion. The gas used in these systems allows for a cushioning effect. Knowing this, manufacturers have implemented pneumatics into squeezing and pressing functions as well.
Additionally, because pneumatic systems use lower pressure than hydraulics, they can be built using lighter and cheaper materials, making them an absolute favorite for industrial companies.
Common Examples of Pneumatic Systems
- Air brake systems
- Pipe organs
- Handheld jackhammer
- Pneumatic mail tube systems
- Conveying systems
- Waste collection
- Office chairs with adjustable height
- Pneumatic bladders
- Medical tools
This is a tiny list. Pneumatics are used in almost every industry you can think of, from food and medicine to theme parks, aircraft, farm equipment and more. Pneumatic systems are present everywhere. There is always incentive to make more out of less, and that’s just what pneumatic power offers: more power in less space.
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