Building Pneumatic Circuits

Pneumatic motion circuits can encompass a huge variety of components and applications across hundreds of industries. How do you know where to begin? At the very basic, there are seven components common to most pneumatic systems:

  • Air compressors
  • Reservoirs
  • Air preparation equipment
  • Valves
  • Fittings
  • Tubing
  • Pneumatic work devices (actuators, grippers, nozzles, etc.)

Air compressors are necessary to start the whole process – without pressurized air, there is no motion! Compressors come in all shapes and sizes, so choosing the right one for your application can be tricky. It needs to provide the right amount of flow and pressure to keep the machine working efficiently. We can help you find the right one. 

Reservoirs improve uptimes by storing pressurized air from the compressor ahead of machine operation. Due to the time it takes to generate the volume of air necessary to operate many pneumatic machines, a reservoir makes a great addition for systems that need to be on and running quickly.

Air preparation equipment prepares air for downstream usage. FRL (filter-regulator-lubricator) systems are among the most common of air prep components. Filters remove contaminants from the air stream to prevent damage to downstream components. Regulators serve similar functions to valves, reducing pressure, limiting force, or equalizing air pressure. Lubricators pre-condition compressed air with oil aerosols; this improves downstream component life and reduces operational friction. Many air prep units can be used independently or as part of a combination unit. 

Valves are critical to the operation of the whole machine. They can turn air “off/on”, reversing flow, modulating pressure, and many other processes. Directional control valves, one of the most common valves used, are operated either manually, pneumatically, or electrically. These valves control the direction that the air is flowing to the actuator or other device.

Fittings are an easily overlooked component that pull the whole machine together. They use tight seals to connect components via pipes, hoses, and tubes; many styles, such as push-to-connect fittings, allow for quick installation and maintenance. Streamlined pneumatic components will often have built-in fittings to assure compatibility and ease-of-use.

Like fittings, tubing is a similarly disregarded component that is essential to the function of the entire machine. Tubing carries compressed air from component to component, creating a consistent flow path. Tubing comes in hundreds of ODs (outer diameters), IDs (internal diameters), colors, and styles; the most common types of tubing come in large rolls that can be cut to length to accommodate your component spacing exactly.

Pneumatic work devices perform the overall desired machining, whether it is linear or rotary motion (actuators), work item grabbing (grippers), spraying (nozzles), or other more complex motion profiles.

When assembling a pneumatic system, you should consider several factors that will help you choose which components you require.

  • Efficiency: design systems with minimal potential leak points and the shortest travel distances to decrease air and pressure loss
  • Sizing: choose components properly sized to the output required; oversized components can cause the compressor to overwork and fail earlier than expected. Oversized components also waste energy.
  • Environment: temperature, moisture, indoor/outdoor locations, and other environmental factors can adversely impact machines not designed around these considerations 

Want to find out if pneumatic motion is right for your application? Speak to one of our experts today to learn more!