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Technopolymers help to slash pneumatics costs

15 October, 2008

Festo has cut the cost of pneumatic components by up to 30% by introducing a new family that makes extensive use of technopolymer materials. The family, aimed at the high-volume industrial controls market, includes compact and ISO cylinders, one-way flow control valves, solenoid-operated valves and terminals, and air preparation systems.

According to Steve Sands, Festo`s UK product manager, the lower-cost products are Festo’s response to the changing shape of the pneumatics market which, he says, “is becoming increasingly polarised by the demand for higher technology or highly adapted products at one end, and basic low-cost products at the other.

“Despite the obvious sales potential for low-cost products, this isn`t Festo`s traditional market strength, and we have not entered this market lightly,” Sands adds.

The company conducted a intensive R&D programme to develop the computer-based modelling and analysis tools needed to ensure that it is using the right materials in the optimum way. For example, it is using a 50% glass-fibre reinforced polyarylamide compound that can be processed in conventional screw-type injection moulding machines and combined with metal components to offer a similar reliability to all-metal components, but at a much lower cost.

“We now consider it technically and commercially viable to replace more metal parts in pneumatic valves and cylinders with injection-moulded components,” Sands says. “The use of polymer materials achieves only a part of the potential savings. Equally important are innovations in manufacturing, assembly and logistic processes to help hone down the total production costs."

The new family includes a range of pneumatic cylinders with technopolymer end-caps, stainless-steel piston rods and aluminium barrels. The DSNUP cylinders are around 30% cheaper than the interchangeable all-metal DSNU family. The cylinders, with piston diameters of 16, 20 or 25mm, are said to be easy to install.

The family also includes compact, chemical-resistant cylinders with technopolymer end-caps and push-in tube fittings aimed at simple automation tasks such as controlling gates and flaps, and for simple clamping and holding functions.

There is also a series of technopolymer-based valves, which are available as individual components, or as assembled and tested manifolds. The VB12 valves, suitable for air flows from 200-1,000 litres per minute, have bodies moulded from a glass-filled polyamide, resulting in a cost-effective, low-weight design.

Sands is optimistic that the new ranges will been accepted rapidly by UK customers. “We believe that the introduction of these high-quality, low-cost pneumatics products represents a major opportunity for UK-based OEMs and systems integrators who, until now, have struggled to compete with companies that use unbranded low-cost imports.”

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