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Posts tagged: pneumatic fittings

Quick-Disconnect Pneumatic Fittings – Modern and Legacy

It’s a pretty basic concept: you have something that moves air, and you need to attach it to something that has to have air pressure in order to do its job. You need to be able to detach that tool quickly, so you can’t use screws or other complex machinery. Enter the standard thumb-latch connector, and your problems are solved! Seems like there’s not much there that needs changing — but pneumatic fittings have in fact evolved in recent years.


The Old Guard: Metal Latch Couplings

More than 55 years ago, when pneumatics were first becoming industry standards across the world, the metal latch coupling was born. Cast of strong metals with as few moving pieces as possible, they held up against the extreme changes in internal air pressure easily. After a few years of trial-and-error to establish what the standardized sizes would be, metal latch couplings became so ubiquitous that they seemed to be a foregone conclusion. You need to connect pneumatics, you use a metal coupling, done deal.

But then, along came plastic and changed everything.


Plastic Latch Pneumatic Fittings

Plastic is lighter — significantly lighter — than metal, and its ability to remain strong even when more thinly sculpted allows for a more ergonomic fitting. Furthermore, plastic is resistant to corrosion in a way that metal isn’t, which made the plastic coupling much more durable under a variety of different industrial conditions.

And plastic wasn’t done yet.


Plastic Twist-Lock Connectors

Twist-lock connectors were the logical extension of the Luer-taper fittings of the previous century: simple pneumatic fittings that could be slipped together and locked tight with a mere quarter-turn. Because they are nearly as durable as a plastic latch fitting but don’t require a latch or button to activate, twist-lock connectors can be used in smaller spaces, or in implements like sphygmomanometers (blood pressure cuffs) where the much heavier plastic latch would cause usability problems.


With quick-disconnect pneumatic fittings evolving from the near-indestructible and extraordinarily reliable metal latches that are still industry standard after more than half a century of use to the the very small, very light, and easy-to-operate plastic twist-lock, there are very few places where pneumatic connections are an engineering challenge these days — and we’re all better off for it.


Pneumatic Fittings In Everyday Life

Most often when we think about a factory that fabricates products like our cars, coffee grinders, and computer boards, we envision a robotic environment where dozens of computerized arms whirr on electric motors, bustling efficiently about creating product. Truth be told, that vision is often wrong in a few way. For one thing, ‘arms’ aren’t nearly as prevalent as you might think. For another, most of the power in fabrication labs these days comes from pneumatics, not from electric motors. The sound in a plant is much less ‘whirr, whirr’ and much more ‘psshh, hiss’.

But it’s not just in the fabrication plant that we come across pneumatics. A surprising amount of everyday objects use pneumatics to get their jobs done. Most jackhammers must be attached to an external air compressor via a pneumatic fitting, for example. Many larger trucks and buses have pneumatic brakes. But what about in your daily life?

How about:

  • Tire pressure gauges
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Some nail guns
  • Bicycle/ball pumps
  • The device that slows your screen door down so it doesn’t slam shut when you let go of it
  • The handicapped-access button that opens door for you
  • Some car’s shocks
  • Those capsules you use to give and receive money from the farther-away of the two bank teller drive-ups

The list is long and sometimes surprising. There are far and away more industrial applications than household ones for pneumatics, of course: pneumatics see use in almost every kind of factory, whether they’re fabricating DVDs or deburring cast metal tools before they’re ready for sale. The most common difference between industrial and home-use pneumatics is the likelihood that a given tool will be self-powered or be required to hook to a central pneumatic compressor that provides power to a variety of different units.

Thus, while pneumatics might be common in everyday life, you rarely see pneumatic fittings outside of industrial applications. Unless you happen to have or use a sandblaster, air compressor, or vacuum pump for craft projects or as a part of the work you do from home, chances are much greater that you’ll come across a hydraulic fitting at home than a pneumatic one.