by Guido Belforte –
Technological evolution is perceivable also through quite modest signals, apparently alien to what we are considering, sometimes almost imperceptible, like those represented by some new valve models or by a new actuator type.
A process of constant evolution is exactly at the base of the development processes of the various technologies.
From this point of view, pneumatics apparently appears as a mature technology, which seems to have reached its stable development degree, by now consolidated, without showing new significant novelty contributions. If we pay due attention, however, we can realize that something is always changing, perhaps without big shocks, because valves are always valves, all cylinders are always similar and so on. We should then consider some accessory factors. Some time ago, miniaturized solenoid valves, of cartridge type, appeared on the market of pneumatic components. They are those valves with a tubular body, which can be assembled in a corresponding cylindrical seat, and where the connection of the valve inlets to the related circuit occurs only through annular grooves, insulated one another by O-Ring seals. Nothing new: it is a solution existing for many years and traditionally always present in the hydraulics field. It is the standard solution that we use when we want to implement circuits with valve blocks grouped in compact way and in small spaces, inside blocks where interconnection circuits are directly drawn. Valves have always existed in pneumatic automation, in the past only in the version with threaded connection holes, then with sub-base solutions and also with assembly in blocks and valve isles. The first solutions are suitable for wired circuits, the third is typical of modern electro-pneumatic systems, where the solenoid valve group is the element that facilitates the interconnection with control electronics. The appearance of cartridge solenoid valves indicates a further trend change. It is an important turning point towards a new way of using pneumatics, this time not only interconnected with electronics but directly integrated inside the group or the final system operated by the compressed air.
With cartridge valves, pneumatics goes beyond the ambit of automation circuits where solenoid valves are used for the control of cylinders and various actuators, and strongly enters the field of “embedded” systems.
We are still in the field of automation systems but the goal is now to be part of an integrated subgroup or a new component with its own life and functions. This is a new frontier indeed: in integrated systems, we are no more dealing with “components” but with “functions”.
The next future will probably see a higher market ease in offering integrated groups and subgroups, with their own well defined tasks, useful to facilitate the preparation of complex automated systems, using functional modules mutually integrated, prearranged to implement easily reconfigurable equipment. This is a further target that technology will pursue, with the aim of achieving not faster but more flexible systems, satisfying customers’ requirements and more efficient from the energy point of view.
Today the market offers a new technical solution, with the possibility of having cartridge solenoid valves, useful for integrating solenoid valves inside a functional group. It is an interesting opportunity that designers, attentive to market novelties, will be certainly able to use, to propose in their turn more effective and more compact solutions for the implementation of innovative products.