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?
- 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.