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Novel pneumatic motor flexes its muscles

01 April, 2005

Novel pneumatic motor flexes its muscles

At the Hannover Fair in Germany this month, Festo unveiled an odd-looking pneumatic motor based on its "fluidic muscle" technology. The new "muscle motor" is a slow-turning, high-torque machine, which is said to have several potential advantages over conventional motors based on pistons or cylinders..

The fluidic muscles at the heart of the motor are formed from an elastomeric membrane and shorten when they are supplied with compressed air. A cam and a freewheeling bearing transmit this linear movement to a shaft, converting it to a rotary motion. When the pressure is released, the muscle returns to its original, elongated shape but, because of the freewheeling bearing, this movement is not transmitted to the shaft. Several muscles can be connected simultaneously to a shaft and operated in sequence to provide a slow, smooth rotating movement.

The initial force delivered by the muscle motor is ten times greater than that possible from a conventional compressed air drive with the same cross-section. The movement is smooth, without any stick-slip effects.

In a demonstration on its stand, Festo was using a two-cylinder version of the motor to power a bicycle (shown above). The company suggests that such as system could help cyclists to climb hills. It estimates that the 200-bar compressed air bottle used for the demonstration could power the bicycle for 22 minutes

Festo says that the relatively slow movements of the muscle motor would also make it ideal for applications such as the closing and opening of fittings. The technology resists moisture, dust and dirt, needs little maintenance, is quiet, and it does not use much energy.

One possible application would as a lightweight and quiet auxiliary drive on the handwheels used to control fluid flows. It could also be used for metering or conveying fluids using a hose pump in the food, pharmaceutical and water treatment industries (as shown in the above demonstration). The motor`s slow speed would allow continuous adjustment to allow for differences in viscosity.




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