Pneumatics is the use of pressurized air to do a mechanical motion. Pneumatic power is used in industry, dentistry, construction, mining, and other areas.
Pneumatics works by taking the air around us and compressing or ‘squishing’ it into a smaller volume which increases it’s pressure. That pressure is then used to apply a force to create a movement. To understand, think of those joke snakes in a can, when it is out of the can, it just lays there, but when pushed into the small space it wants to extend, so when the lid comes off, “pow”.
In robotics, pneumatics are usually used to do a game task. It may be to lift, push, pull or strike an object or lift the robot. Pneumatics can be a quick way to apply a force. Pneumatics can also be quite strong, which is why there are strict safety rule about the use of pneumatics within the robotics program.
A pneumatic system (see diagram) would usually have the following parts:
- Air compressor: to squeeze the air
- Air tank(s): to hold the compressed air until needed
- Air line or hose: to carry the air between the other parts
- Fittings: to connect the parts and split the line into multiple paths.
- Pressure gauges: to show what pressure the stored air is at compared to normal atmospheric pressure
- Regulators: a combination guage and valve part that adjusts the air pressure to a specified setting as it travels the system.
- Valves: to control the movement of the air through the system, there can be various kinds, one that is always included is a special relief valve that removes the air from the system.
- Actuators: This is the part that converts the air pressure into a mechanical force, such as an air cylinder or piston.
Pneumatic system Diagram (from usfirst.org, pneumatics manual)
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If you wish to experiment with pneumatics and air pressure you can download these instruction sheets: