A Brief Guide on Troubleshooting Pneumatic Actuators

Pneumatic actuators are used to convert the energy from pressurized air into rotary and linear motion. With exceptional motion control, it guarantees the precision needed in automation. They are used in many industries, such as automotive, food processing, and manufacturing because of their many benefits.

If your pneumatic actuator and its components are not working correctly, there are several things you can do to troubleshoot it. This article will guide you through the proper troubleshooting process to reach the right solution.

1. Basic Troubleshooting

Every time any system experiences a breakdown, there are several steps you can take to help determine what happened. The first thing you need to do is ask the three Ws.

Question 1: What is happening?

Some of the most common issues surrounding pneumatic systems and actuators are generally easy to point out if you’re familiar with how it works. System operators often ask themselves what is or isn’t happening with the pneumatic actuators to determine if some of its components are not working as intended.

Problems like insufficient pressure, valve issues, and slow-moving (or drifting) actuators are common issues often discovered by mere observation.

Question 2: When did the problem start?

Knowing when an issue started is an ideal way to determine what kind of problem your actuator is facing and how serious it is. Recurring problems and gradual failures generally indicate actuator issues like leaks, contamination, and worn components.

Alternatively, breakdowns that seem to come out of nowhere indicate catastrophic failures. Common issues associated with sudden malfunctions include broken components, mechanical problems, and component ruptures.

Question 3:  Where is the issue happening?

Being able to determine where in the machine cycle the issue is happening can help you distinguish a recurring problem. Always check your maintenance records to check if there are any records of any recurring issues and where they are often observed.

Knowing where the issue is happening should help you understand what’s causing the problem and give you an idea of how it can be repaired.

2. Understand Your Actuator

It’s essential that you are familiar with how the components and subsystems work before running or repairing any pneumatic systems. Manufacturers generally provide documents that should help you understand how your actuator works. One of these documents is called the schematic road map.

Schematic road maps or drawings are documents that explain how all the various components present in your actuator works. This document contains valuable information such as:

  • Flow rates
  • Air motor speeds
  • Pressure tests points
  • Cylinder stroke lengths
  • List of materials and structures.
  • Pressure settings for regulators and valves

Studying these details in your schematic road map can give you a clearer idea of how your components work. This should help you trace possible problems and find where they might have originated. This document can also help you determine whether the actuator systems are functioning correctly and within design parameters.

3. Conduct a Visual Inspection

Now that you’re familiar with the actuator’s schematics, it’s time for you to conduct a visual inspection to trace where the issue is happening. Problems like leaks, burst hoses, worn seals, and broken components should be easily be identified by simply walking around the equipment.

You should check the pressure regulator valves to ensure that there’s enough pressure. If you notice that the machine has too much restriction, inspect the flow control valve for possible issues.

If you notice the filters are dirty and clogged up, get them replaced or cleaned up. Not doing so puts your equipment at risk of contamination.

4. Run Your System

After conducting a visual inspection, you should now run your system to see how the malfunction happens in real-time. Once you get the system running, be sure to keep an eye out on the following:

  • Excessive Leakage
  • Manual controls and buttons are too stiff or loose.
  • Moving components that are moving erratically or violently
  • System pressure does not match the levels specified in the documentation

Observing these issues and how it happens can greatly reduce the troubleshooting time you need since you’ll be able to address them accurately. It’s also an excellent opportunity to check if the minor adjustments you made during inspection helped address specific issues.

5. Isolate Your Subsystem

Machines are made up of various interrelated components and systems working together. An issue with one component can lead to another malfunction in a different subsystem. When you’re troubleshooting problems, it’s vital that you significantly isolate specific subsystems to reduce the diagnostic area.

With a smaller diagnostic area, it’s easier to identify a specific problem and makes it possible for you to diagnose the cause of the issue correctly. For example, a visual inspection may tell you the problem is a slow actuator. Isolating the affected subsystem can help determine that the underlying causes are faulty lubricators and valve seals.

It’s also worth noting that caution, safety, and familiarity with the system are essential in this part of troubleshooting. Any changes you made with each subsystem must be emphasized and reversed before turning on the system again. Not doing so can cause further problems and damage to the machine.

During isolation, disconnected lines and opened ports must be properly plugged back in to prevent unnecessary air leakages and contamination. System pressures also need to be monitored after turning the subsystem back on to ensure they’re within acceptable levels.

6. Conduct Testing

The troubleshooting process so far should’ve helped you narrow down the possible causes of the malfunction. This time you have to test all the possible conclusions, you may have. In this part of the troubleshooting process, you’ll need to test potential solutions that might fix the malfunction.

There’s a wide variety of tests that you can conduct depending on the issue and the conclusions you have. During the testing phase, be sure the check the following if they’re within acceptable parameters:

  • System Pressure 
  • Actuator alignment
  • Flow meter (flow rates)
  • Air system temperature

Once the malfunction has disappeared, and the system is still running at acceptable levels, it’s safe to say that you were able to address the issue. However, it’s always wise to conduct another thorough inspection just to be sure.

It’s possible that your tests will conclude that repairs or replacements are the only options. Conducting repairs requires more extended downtime but generally has lower costs. Replacing components are costlier but often requires less downtime. It’s up to you or your team to decide which one is the best course of action you can take.

Trust the Process

The troubleshooting process may sound complex and extensive, but trusting it can help lead you or your team to the correct conclusions.

Simply taking the time to answer the three “W” questions should already be enough to reduce troubleshooting time. Following these steps should help you identify, determine, and address malfunctions without missing something important.

Additionally, it’s also vital that you have your findings noted and reported. Maintaining a thorough record of the problems, observations, conclusions, and solutions can be extremely helpful for future troubleshooting.

If you’re interested in having your machine checked for possible issues, consider reaching out to JHFOSTER. Our company specializes in engineering new designs and retrofitting systems. Visit our website to request our services. Our team of experts is ready to help ensure your machine is well maintained and within warranty.