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Why Do I Need an Air Regulator?

Air regulators are pneumatic devices that receive air at any pressure within its tolerance, and then dispense air of a pressure no greater than their intended output. In other words, air comes in at a higher pressure, and departs at a lower pressure in most circumstances. For the purposes of this article, everything that comes before the air regular is ‘upstream’, and everything after it is ‘downstream.’

Air flows from an air compressor somewhere upstream, and it may or may not interact with other upstream elements. When it reaches the air regulator, a system of springs and an internal diaphragm ‘pushes back’ against the incoming air, offering enough resistance that only a set volume of air (and thus, a set air pressure, since air pressure is calculated by volume within a given area) moves downstream. So long as the upstream pressure is enough to open the diaphragm, and not enough to tear the air regulator off of the device altogether, the downstream pressure will be constant regardless of how the upstream pressure changes.

This is a hugely vital function, because many pneumatic cylinders would be harmed by overly powerful air, or at the very minimum the jobs the cylinders are doing would be done poorly if they were done too quickly. For example, without an air regulator, a pneumatic cylinder attached to a carefully-balanced load might jolt upward too quickly and disturb the load it was lifting.

The air compressors have a ‘cutoff point’ at which they stop compressing air, instead allowing the air already compressed into their reservoir to do the work. Air regulators will cause the upstream system to back up such that the upstream pressure will eventually build up and cause the compressor’s cutoff point to trigger, stopping the compression until that high-pressure air has had a chance to work its way through the regulator enough that the air compressor restarts — but the downstream pressure from the regulator never changes until the entire system is shut down and the diaphragm finally closes.

The answer to the title question, then, is simple: you need an air compressor not only to protect delicate devices or delicate work from variations in the upstream air pressure, but to reduce the amount of air that your compressor has to process.

What Does My Hydraulic Filter Do?

Hydraulic fluid has a number of purposes inside of a hydraulic system. In addition to it’s obvious purpose of transferring force from a hydraulic power unit to an actuator, it has a few less-obvious purposes as well:

  • It helps to seal the hydraulic system through the power of surface tension and adhesion,
  • It lubricates the system by preventing metal surfaces from contacting each other,
  • And it helps balance the temperature of the system by transferring heat from one area to another.

If any of these functions are compromised, the entire system can become compromised. The obvious question, then, is ‘what causes these functions to become compromised and how can we prevent that?’ As it turns out, the most common cause of compromised hydraulic fluid is particulate that builds up in the fluid.

Particulate build-up might not cause the force-transferring properties of the hydraulic fluid to dissipate, but all three of the other functions are vulnerable to particles. They breach the surface tension of the fluid, breaking the ‘seal’ that the fluid forms that prevent microscopic leaks from becoming problematic. They can get pinched between metal surfaces that would otherwise have been adequately lubricated and cause damage to those surfaces. And by causing excess friction, they can overcome the ability of the fluid to keep the system cool.

The way to prevent particulate build up, as you may have guessed, is to use and regularly change your hydraulic filter. A hydraulic filter eliminates particulate contamination, which in turn prevents a goodly number of the problems that can crop up within your hydraulic fluid.

What Won’t My Hydraulic Filter Do?
The hydraulic filter isn’t the be-all and end-all of hydraulic system maintenance, however. No filter can keep water entirely out of your hydraulic fluid, for example, and water has a variety of negative effects on the system. Furthermore, the particulate that gets into your fluid comes from the inside of the parts of your hydraulic system — microscopic chunks that break off. Given long enough, that wear can affect the performance of a part, which will need replacing.

That said, nothing is quite as cost-effective at increasing the functional lifespan of a hydraulic system like regular replacement of the hydraulic filter — so make sure you stay on top of it!