The history of air cylinders is tied up with the history of pneumatics and pneumatic systems. Pneumatic systems are those systems that work using or contain pressurized air or gas.
Our knowledge of the early history of pneumatics is fairly spotty. We know that Hero of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician, harnessed the wind to transport items and as a power source. We also know that early blacksmiths used simple compressors while working with metal.
One of the first modern scientists to really study and develop pneumatic devices was Otto Von Guericke. In 1650, he invented the first air pump capable of producing a partial vacuum. He used it to conduct experiments and gain knowledge of how air interacts with and relates to both respiration and combustion.
The 1800s was a great century for the development of pneumatics. First, in 1829, engineers patented the compound air compressor, which compresses air via a series of cylinders. Then in 1872, engineers invented water-jacketed cylinders, or cylinders cooled by water. With them, they were able to greatly improve air compressor efficiency. Also, in 1871, Samuel Ingersoll invented the pneumatic drill. Towards the end of the 19th century, John Wanamaker introduced the first pneumatic tubes for mail transportation in and around post offices.
In the 1900s, manufacturers started using piston air compressors and screw air compressors on all sorts of machinery, such as jet engines. During the second half of the century, manufacturers began to merge industrial air cylinder technology with computer technology. By doing so, they were able to better control air cylinders, as well as program them.
Today, air cylinders and other forms of pneumatic technology are more important than ever. They offer assistance to applications of all sizes and scopes, and in this way hint at the innovation that engineers will accomplish with them in the future.
The most common material options that air cylinder manufacturers offer are stainless steel and brass, but others, such as plastic and nickel-plated brass, are available as well.
The goal of air cylinder manufacturers is to create for their customer an air cylinder that can move the greatest load at the lowest workable velocity and the minimum functional pressure. To achieve this, when designing air cylinders, manufacturers think about things including application load type, application load weight, system size, system environment, and measure of required movement.
Based on these factors, manufacturers choose and customize power factor, air cylinder type, air cylinder material, air cylinder size, air cylinder shape, the force of the air cylinder/cylinder power (measured in psi), and its diameter of movement or rotation. They may fabricate cylinders as small as 2.5 mm (diameter) or as large as 1,000 mm (diameter). Based on the function, force and size of your cylinder, manufacturers will choose cylinder mounting hardware, such as noses, blocks, and pivots.
All air cylinders fall into one of two categories: single acting or double acting.
Single acting cylinders can power movement in one direction by allowing compressed air to enter and move the piston through a single inlet. After the air has moved through, a spring pushes the piston back into place. Single cylinders use about half the amount of compressed air that double acting cylinders use.
Double acting cylinders have two outlets on either side of the piston that allow compressed air in and out to push the piston back and forth. Like single acting cylinders, double acting cylinder airflow is controlled by valves, or air lines.
Other types of air cylinders include reverse single acting air cylinders, compressed air cylinders, multiple bore cylinders, multiple-position cylinders, single rod cylinders, double rod cylinders, rodless air cylinders, rotary air cylinders, cable air cylinders, compact air cylinders, miniature air cylinders, small air cylinders, pancake cylinders, non-rotating air cylinders, high-pressure air cylinders, clean profile cylinders, and tie rod cylinders.
Reverse single acting air cylinders are single acting air cylinders with ports located in the reserve position. The position of their ports gives them power to pull or retract.
Compressed air cylinders take compressed air and turn it into mechanical power.
Multiple bore cylinders are air cylinders that feature two-plus pistons and boxes. These pistons and boxes are found stacked or otherwise combined inside the same cylinder.
Multiple position cylinders are a type of double-acting cylinder. Their two cylinders feature the same diameter, but operators can use them to create three or more end positions.
Single rod cylinders are cylinders that feature one piston, along with a piston cylinder rod that reaches out from just one end.
Double rod cylinders are cylinders that feature one piston, along with a piston rod that reaches out from both cylinder ends.
Rodless air cylinders are made up of a long slot-shaped barrel, a piston connected directly to a mounting carriage, hardened band seals, and slide rails. One hardened band pneumatically seals the cylinder, while the other seals the slot. The second band keeps out contamination. The rails separate the bands in order to allow the carriage to move.
Rotary air cylinders create rotational movement by manipulating mechanical energy. They glean this mechanical energy from compressed air with pressure differentials.
Cable air cylinders use differential air pressure to create mechanical energy that can help laterally move wire and cable loads.
Compact air cylinders use extremely short strokes and can both move and lock over small distances. Also known as short stroke cylinders, customers use compact cylinders for applications with little space.
Miniature air cylinders are reverse single acting, rectangular cylinders. They feature springs housed in uniquely large piston rods. Also known as microcylinders, they are quite versatile.
Small air cylinders are another air cylinder used in cramped spaces. Compact, mini, and small cylinders grow increasingly popular as microtechnology advances; they may be as small as 2.5 mm in diameter.
Pancake cylinders are cylinders with large diameters and short lengths that make them appear pancake-like.
Non-rotating air cylinders are cylinders that use components (cylinder housing and piston, and plunger, rod or piston) that move in a set relative rotation.
High pressure air cylinders work with higher amounts of pressure in order to perform tasks that require greater force. The most powerful cylinders, they are useful in a wide range of sized applications, as they are quite small.
Clean profile cylinders are cylinders designed to work in sterile environments. With a flat cylinder barrel shape, round edges, and t-slot sensors all around, they are easy to clean and less likely to pick up dirt and dust.
Tie rod cylinders are rectangular bolt patterned cylinders joined by exterior tie rods.
Air cylinders and other compressed air devices offer their users a number of benefits. First, they are environmentally friendly; this feature is extremely important in our world today, as we seek to minimize our impact on the Earth and its atmosphere. Second, air cylinders are versatile; manufacturers can custom design them to meet specifications of all sorts, from carbon dioxide compression to textiles. Next, air cylinders are effective and efficient. They protect well against leaks. Finally, they are not only trustworthy and safe, but they are more trustworthy and safe than their competitors, hydraulic cylinders.
To improve performance or prevent future problems, manufacturers can equip your air cylinders with optional add-ons like position-sensing switches, stop tubes, position feedback sensors, covers for valves, cushions, flow controls, dual pistons, and bumpers. With the right choice of configuration, accessories, and the proper care, air cylinders can revolutionize an application. Learn more by talking to your air cylinder supplier.
To make sure your air cylinders work efficiently and last a long time, you must treat them well and check on them regularly.
Treating your air cylinder well is easy. First, you need to run your cylinders at least 30 minutes a week. Long periods of disuse are not good for air compressor cylinders. Next, you need to make sure your air cylinder is properly outfitted with the accessories it needs, like properly fitted safety devices. Finally, only pair your air cylinder with applications and pressures it is made to endure. Do not try to create lower or higher pressures than those for which your cylinder was made, and do not run materials through it that are too corrosive for it. To do so risks failure of the air cylinder. Because it has contents under pressure, the failure of an air cylinder can be especially dangerous.
Regular checkups can involve a few different things, depending on your cylinder configuration. Non-lubricated cylinders, for example, require routine checks for corrosion from condensation. This is true two times over if your air cylinder is also a non-stainless-steel variety. Because air cylinders engage in many processes that require extreme precision, errors or inconsistencies can cause damage, harm, or inaccuracies. Avoid them to ensure safe and proper operations.
Another good practice is to clean your air cylinder unloading piston at least once a month. During cleaning, you need to clean both the unloading piston and the suction valve cover. To keep the piston from sticking, consider applying or reapplying a silicone or grease lubricant at this time. Next, every 500 working hours, you should clean your air cylinder in its entirety.
The standards to which your air cylinder must adhere vary by industry, application, and location. To avoid any inconsistencies in stroke length, bore dimensions, or other dimensions, it’s important to purchase ISO 6432-compliant machines.
We also recommend that you make a habit of purchasing only NFPA cylinders. NFPA cylinders are those pneumatic cylinders that have been approved by the National Fluid Power Association. NFPA certified pneumatic cylinders are highly standardized, so if you need to replace one, you can easily find a match, even with another supplier.
Air cylinder safety and compliance standards are very important. To make sure you know which certifications your cylinder needs, talk to your industry leaders before making any purchases.
Things to Consider
If you are interested in air cylinders, you will get the best answers and the highest quality products by working with an experienced and reliable air cylinder supplier. To help you find the right supplier for you, we have put together a list of some of those pneumatic product companies we trust the most. You will find the various profiles of our recommended companies tucked in between these informational paragraphs.
When you are ready, look them over. As you do so, keep in mind important aspects of your application, such as your standard requirements, your project timeline, your budget, your delivery requirements, your installation assistance requirements, and your post-installation support preferences.