Pneumatics systems are everywhere – particularly in industrial settings. From construction equipment to high-tech automated manufacturing tools, from air brakes on trains to HVAC control systems, pneumatics provides us with a clean, renewable energy source with straightforward maintenance requirements and won’t leave you out of pocket, compared to some of the alternatives. We take a look below at some examples of what a pneumatic system is, what their benefits are and where they are used.
What is a pneumatic system?
A pneumatic system is a system that uses compressed air to transmit power. Usually, a centrally located compressor provides power to cylinders, rotary actuators, and other pneumatic devices through a system of tanks, pipes and valves. The compressor sucks in air from the atmosphere, reduces its volume by compression (increasing its pressure) and then stores it in a high-pressure tank. This compressed air can then be released to do work by acting on a piston (in a cylinder) or vane (rotary actuator/pneumatic motor).
What are the benefits of a pneumatic system?
The most obvious challenger to the pneumatics system is hydraulics, and there is always the option of electric instead. So why is a pneumatic system so popular? Some of the benefits of pneumatics include:
- Speed & power: Where accuracy isn’t vital and high forces aren’t required to move the load, pneumatics systems are the preferred choice. Pneumatic systems are great for medium-power applications where speed is needed and the absorption of force is beneficial.
- Convenience: Because pneumatics equipment requires less force and lower pressures, tools can be made of lightweight materials which makes them easier to handle, manoeuvre and transport than if hydraulic power were to be used. They also have an abundant source of operating gas on hand at all times, provided the system has the right filters in place to ensure the air is clean for use. Similarly, if power fails during operation, the equipment will continue to run provided there is still compressed air in the tank, meaning that any outages are far less impactful.
- Safety: Pneumatic systems remove the requirement for electricity at the point where the operative is working, reducing the risk of shock, sparks and explosions. Pneumatic systems can also release their working gas (air) into the atmosphere safely once it has been expended, unlike hydraulics systems which have to be completely sealed and therefore any potential leakage presents a risk.
- Maintenance: Pneumatic systems require little cleaning due to the pressurised air usually forcing any dirt out of the system through everyday use. Maintenance is fairly straightforward; replacement of filters is important, as well as lubrication of moving parts and ensuring seals are intact.
- Noise: Although air compressors can be quite noisy whilst they are running, they are silent when off, and the equipment using compressed air to function is usually relatively low in noise level compared to other options.
What is an example of a pneumatic system application?
Pneumatic systems are all around us, in domestic applications, healthcare settings, transportation and industrial plants. We take a look here at some examples of pneumatic systems, what is it that they are used for and where they can be found:
- Air brakes – used on trucks, buses and trains thanks to their safety and reliability on very heavy loads.
- Dental equipment – whilst unloved by most patients, the use of compressed air to power dental drills means that they are gentler than they otherwise might be, and the risk of shock and hazardous fluid leakage is removed.
- Construction applications – civil construction projects often require equipment such as jackhammers and road drills, both of which can be powered through pneumatics, allowing for remote working under just about any conditions.
- Automated production equipment – used in everything from assemblies to gantries, pneumatics equipment is a common component of the industrialised world of production, providing precise, quick and safe solutions for all sorts of manufacturing environments.
- HVAC controls – many industrial settings and larger commercial buildings use heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to regulate, filter and heat or cool the air. Pneumatic controls are used to send those signals and control the devices to trigger action.
Pneumatic systems, are, then, the workhorses of our world. What an example of a pneumatic system is to one person in one setting may vary dramatically from another application example in a different setting. If you are interested in pneumatic systems and would like to understand more about how they can best fit into your industrial setting, take a look at our pneumatic actuators page and get in touch to discuss your example of a pneumatic system, what is it that we might be able to help you with and we will be happy to advise.