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Pneumatic valves: How do they work?
- Jul 28, 2018 -

Air preparation
Pressure relief valves will control pressure at their inlet port by exhausting pressure to atmosphere. Relief valves are typically used only in receivers or air storage devices, such as accumulators, as a means to prevent excessive pressurization. As such, relief valves are often called safety valves and are not typically appropriate for use anywhere but the air preparation stage.

Pressure regulators in pneumatic systems limit pressure downstream of the unit by blocking pressure upstream at the inlet. Regulators are used in the air preparation stage, as well as in control of cylinders and motors. The letter R in the acronym FRL stands for regulator, which is installed downstream of the receiver tank, but before the circuit they are regulating pressure for.

Sometimes multiple stages of pressure reduction are required, especially with a large centralized compressor and receiver feeding various workstations. A regulator can control pressure within the main grid of distribution plumbing, but sometimes air is piped directly to an FRL at each workstation or machine. Pressure at this main header could be 120 psi or more, but a branch circuit could be regulated at 90 psi, for example. Most regulators are capable of relieving downstream pressure, which prevents that downstream pressure from elevating as a result of load-induced pressure or thermal expansion.

Pressure regulators can be had as stand-alone units, but sometimes a filter is attached to kill two birds with one stone. Regulators are most often available as a component of a modular set, with a filter, regulator, lubricator or dryer etc., and can be assembled in any combination. The regulator will have an inlet port, outlet port and a port for the pressure gauge, which they are most often included with.

Pressure regulators can also be used to control pressure for individual actuators, such as an inline regulator or work-port mounted regulator. These are typically quite small and included with reverse flow check valves, as would be required for double acting function of a cylinder, for example. Further still, differential pressure regulators are offered by some manufacturers, to maintain a set pressure differential between the two ports, rather than just maintaining downstream pressure. It should be noted that all pressure regulators are adjustable, most often with screws or knobs.