Many industrial applications require linear motion during their operating sequence. One of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to accomplish this is with a pneumatic actuator, often referred to as an air cylinder. Actuators are typically mechanical devices that take energy and convert it into some kind of motion. That motion can be in any form, such as blocking, clamping, or ejecting, but typical motions are rotational or linear in scope.
As old-school as pneumatic actuators are, they’re definitely not components that are stuck in the past. Improved sensing and the related advancements that engineers have seen with the age of the IoT and fog computing are making meaningful improvements to this class of actuators.
For example, according to Jacob Toppen, Product Marketing Specialist for Aventics at Emerson, his company’s Smart Pneumatics Monitor (SPM), is an edge device capable of collecting data locally — totally independent of the control network.
“It uses pre-installed algorithms to analyze data, display relevant system information on a dashboard, and distribute data to other systems using popular messaging protocols,” Toppen said. “By collecting sensor data and performing cycle counting, the SPM module provides reliable information on the state of wear of actuators, valves, and non-pneumatic components, plus analyze energy efficiency. This minimizes the risk of machine downtime and significantly lowers operating costs.”
Similarly, Frank Latino, Product Manager, Business Unit Electric Automation, Festo, noted that his company has a solution using its IoT GW to do fog computing (an edge device to carry out substantial amount of computation and extend to a cloud).
“In essence, we are filtering and conditioning data from our unique pneumatic energy savings module MSE6-E2M to provide a dashboard targeting energy savings and maintenance information,” Latino said. “Changes in pressure, flow, and consumption data can be provided. A calculation of air savings is possible based on machine utilization of compressed air.”
Toppen said that he feels the Smart Pneumatics Monitor is an innovative IIoT gateway with simple operation, great flexibility, and outstanding efficiency.
“The programming software, Node-RED, comes pre-loaded on the Linux edge device. Node-RED is an open source graphical interface software developed by IBM which is easily accessible via a web browser when connected to the device,” he explained. “What’s more, Emerson’s Aventics is taking advantage of wireless connectivity in its sensors. Wireless sensors are used to transfer data to computing devices for process optimization and predictive maintenance.
Latino said that wireless communication “has a place in automation for the right application. It is best to follow standards, such as IO-Link wireless, so performance and interoperability are assured. I have yet to see power transfer technology suitable for actuators in the automation market.”
Latino noted that compact, inexpensive, distributed I/O blocks have been trendy due to ease of installation. Latino said that Festo plans to release a new series in this area, including pneumatic valves, later in 2019.
Nathan Irvine, Product Specialist for Aventics at Emerson, said that online pneumatic product configuration tools are gaining popularity as a self-service solution for engineers.
“They allow quick product selection, part number generation, and easy communication with manufacturers,” Irvine said. “Our product configurators allow on-the-fly generation of 2D and 3D CAD models and dimensioned drawings for immediate integration into machine designs. The customer also benefits from all details being uploaded automatically in the ERP system to speed ordering and production. Another example is easy customization of the pressure output and electrical input signal range of our electro-pneumatic pressure regulator valves.
Meanwhile, Latino said that they still see servo-pneumatic filling a space between standard pneumatic and electric drive motion. Force control, reduce weight, and simpler design are all included in servo-pneumatic.
The other hot area for Emerson is web-based sizing tools, such as Aventics’ CylinderFinder, which allows for quick product selection guidance based on application parameters and desired product features.
“The results of Aventics’ engineering tool calculations are made available to the user for validation. In most cases, the sizing tools are linked to product configurators for one-stop product sizing, selection, CAD generation, and additional support including immediate online purchase, if desired,” said Irvine.
“Fluid power continues to provide simple, cost-effective solutions for all types of actuation. Advanced pneumatic position control incorporates precise electro-pneumatic valves, low-breakaway pneumatic cylinders, and accurate position detection along the entire stroke,” said Irvine. “We offer proportional pneumatic technology and new solutions for external position detection. These permit the integration of readily-available standard components to create a basic positioning system with open-loop or closed-loop control via analog or fieldbus communication. Our Advanced Electronic System (AES)-based positioner allows precise positioning based on parameters held in a PLC. For applications not requiring fieldbus communication or a PLC, our Electro-Pneumatic Positioning System (EPPS) provides a simple solution for accurate positioning.”