Modern pneumatic components and advanced systems are becoming ever more complex, and more widespread in industry. In order to get the most out of your pneumatic system, you must choose and maintain your components wisely, all the way through from compressors to controllers and workstations. In this way, you can mitigate the costs involved in unplanned downtime and expensive rebuilds. If you choose wrongly, even in a minor component, it could potentially lead to wasted energy and system-wide failures.

To help you avoid these pitfalls, here at Rowse Pneumatics we can recommend three ways to get more out of your pneumatic system, and to maximise the performance of your all-important pneumatic components.

1. Preventive and Predictive Maintenance

The essential factors to focus on are maximising performance and minimising downtime. Pneumatic systems are like any ordinary combustion engine or electric motor – regular maintenance procedures, like oil changes and cleaning, are necessary to keep a vehicle running, and to keep your machinery operational. Regular maintenance helps to prevent more serious issues further down the line, and avoids a very expensive overhaul if the whole system goes down. In every pneumatic system it is essential to ensure that filters are cleaned, lubricators are not allowed to run dry, and all potential contaminants are removed. These contaminants may include water, oil, bacteria, dirt and debris, or wear from pneumatic components such as rust or metal shavings.

Predictive maintenance is by far the best approach to any modern industrial system; here, you are proactive rather than reactive in dealing with your equipment. Predictive maintenance is in the forefront of modern technology, with a wide array of industrial sensors now available for almost every component. These sensors are designed to alert you to any potential problem with the system, so that you can fix it before a fault actually occurs. Continuous position sensors, for example, can identify areas of wear that cylinders may be exposed to over time, while a flow sensor can be installed in-line with an FRL unit (filter-regulator-lubricator) to identify blocked filters.

Predictive maintenance is driven by data, and can be enhanced by IO-links and software controllers that carry out analysis and deliver the right information to the operator at the right time. Many advanced network nodes can now supply prognostic data to support predictive maintenance, with built-in sensors to check for things like short circuits, cycle counting, overcurrent, thermal management and much more.

By identifying which equipment needs maintenance and when, you can replace unplanned downtime with fewer and shorter planned maintenance stoppages. In this way you will increase the equipment's overall performance lifetime and safety levels, reducing the likelihood of accidents. You will also be able to maximise plant availability, optimise spare parts handling, and reduce your facility's negative environmental impact.

2. Compliance and Safety

Another way to get more out of your pneumatic system is to ensure that it is in compliance with existing standards for performance and safety. This is a crucial factor in helping to avoid equipment overhauls and expensive downtime, and covers important areas such as filtration levels. The recently-updated DIN ISO 8573-1 is the standard that defines the water, oils and particulates that must be separated out in order to maintain a pneumatic system at peak performance, and is defined right down to the micrometre.

To comply with the safety regulations governing the operation of complex industrial systems, the design of any machine containing pneumatic components has traditionally been required to incorporate separate safety circuits for each component. This traditional design method adds unnecessary expenditure to the whole process of creating, manufacturing and installing machinery, with complicated control and safety structures having to be incorporated for each zone.

Zoned safety technology for pneumatic circuits greatly simplifies the traditional design, ensuring operator safety while at the same time allowing other parts of the machine to continue functioning. Engineers can easily define and establish up to three independent electro-pneumatic safety zones within a single valve island assembly, and still allow independent non-safe sections to coexist. This fieldbus-compatible option is suitable for a wide variety of industrial applications and permits safe and efficient customisation of design.

Carrying out risk assessments is another crucial way in which you can get more out of your pneumatic system. Real-time computer simulations using augmented and virtual reality technologies are now available for manufacturers. These help to identify risks and schedule predictive maintenance. You should also consult governmental or other bodies responsible for workplace health and safety administration, to help to minimise the risks of workplace injuries. Measures you might take in this respect include the installation of light curtains, machine guards, interlocks or safety exhaust products that will prevent or block any potential safety hazards.

3. Specification and Integration

Size matters, and bigger is not necessarily better where pneumatic equipment is concerned. From the very beginning of the specification process, it is important to select only equipment that is accurately sized, to save valuable energy and unnecessary expenditure. Installing oversized equipment is a waste on both of these fronts, since you will spend more than you need to, and waste energy on overflow.

A better way to get more out of your pneumatic system is to consider using a pressure booster. This will direct air flow from a compressor only to the largest workpiece and save excess energy on unnecessary flow. Another simple step for preventing wasted energy, damaged seals, or physical injuries is simply to lock the system's pressure regulators. This will prevent workers from altering the overall system pressure in order to supply more air to their own individual workstations.

One final way to get more out of your pneumatic system is to integrate as much as possible with IO-Link communications connectivity throughout your facility. These days, many manufacturers are replacing hardwired solutions with low-cost ethernet connections. IO-Link technology can provide network-based connectivity from field-level devices to a central controller, providing further savings in wiring, installation time, component cost and troubleshooting.