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Pneumatic valves continue to inspire unique applications
- Jul 31, 2018 -

Pneumatic valves are common in every industry, in applications from medical to chemical and automation to corrugation. Compressed air is readily available, clean and easy to use, so the number of markets taking advantage of this technology is no surprise. Two of the larger industries are automation—which uses cylinders and other actuators to produce or process goods at a blinding rate—and the food industry—which can take advantage of the same quick processing of goods without contaminating the final product, while being resistant to liquids or other food additives.

Before the proliferation of electronics, pneumatic valves were used to create automation cells. The vast combinations of valve configurations combined with myriad plungers, cams, rollers and pilots allowed compressed air alone to operate massive and complex automated machinery. Without a single electrical wire, an entire packaging machine, for example, would operate and cycle, coursing and flowing endlessly, requiring only a palm button to initiate.


Pneumatics is an old technology, and for years, there have been basic methods of design and construction. There are common configurations built with spool valves, poppets or other forms, and these configurations are based on the number of ports the valve has and the number of valve positions available. The ports are called ways, for some reason, but this adds clarity to the term “5-way, 3-position,” which describes a directional valve with a pressure, two work and two exhaust ports, that are moving between two energized and one neutral position. But this topic isn’t about those standard 5/3 valves.

For machinery or applications outside the standard apparatus, unique pneumatic valves exist for specialized equipment and processes. There are industries needing attention, and with a market saturated with me-too products, manufacturers are increasingly applying their engineering and marketing capacity to niche products. These products fill gaps required by OEMs and machine builders, themselves trying to stand apart in a competitive world of commodity products.