Pneumatic actuators (or “cylinders”) provide high force and speed in a small footprint, and their motion is easily adjustable via air pressure (force) and flow (speed) regulation. For simple “bang-bang” motion control applications, they can be an extremely cost-effective way to move a load.
Pneumatic Valves control the air supply to an actuator, causing it to extend or retract. Individual stand-alone valves are used when either (A) you only have a couple of them, or (B) it makes sense to locate them near an actuator. The valves themselves come in many shapes and sizes, depending on how much air a given actuator needs to function.
A collection of Pneumatic Valves attached to one another is known as a Manifold, or Valve Bank. This allows for centralized plumbing and wiring, and multiple valves can be controlled via industrial fieldbus communications networks such as Ethernet/IP, Modbus, or EtherCAT to simplify installation and provide diagnostics. Some manifold families also support electrical I/O wiring, and even logical programming functions.
Compressed air prep
Before factory air can be used, it needs to be treated to remove contaminants, reduce pressure, and (in some cases) have oil added to lubricate downstream equipment, like older cylinders. Filter-regulators are used for this purpose.
As the name would indicate, this technology combines a pneumatic actuator with position feedback from an encoder or transducer, so the control system knows where in its stroke it is located at any given time, allowing for simple position- and velocity control. Price and performance are typically mid-way between a “dumb” air cylinder and a servo-motor/ballscrew system.
These devices take compressed air flow and use the Venturi effect to produce suction (lower-than-atmospheric pressure) on an output port, for driving things like suction-gup grippers. “Smart” versions of these devices have feedback to measure suction pressure and can tell when an object is being successfully picked, and may include “blow-off” pulses of pressurized air, for when you put an object down and want it to release.
A huge variety of different shapes, sizes, and materials exist within the category of Suction Cups, as they are designed for a wide range of applications – ranging from very small parts, to very large and heavy parts, to oddly-shaped parts, or inconsistent materials like food items.