So much of today’s modern machinery utilizes some form of pneumatic component within its makeup and function. Yet it can be argued that the majority of people know little about the industry and how components have evolved into being essential elements the likes of jet engines.
To understand how pneumatic components have become important parts of many inventions we use today, we need first to understand their history and how they evolved.
As with many forms of technology, the first use of a form of pneumatic technology dates back many thousands of years. In this instance, a Greek mathematician by the name of Hero of Alexandria wrote in the first century about how he used wind to generate power and transport objects, however it wasn’t until the 1600s that German physicist Otto von Guericke first invented a vacuum pump that utilized air pressure.
Following the work of Guericke, the 1800’s proved to be a pivotal century in the evolution of pneumatics as many more became aware of how compressed air could be used to great effect. Just a few of the many developments during the 1800’s include:
- The compound air compressor, which compresses air in a series of cylinders, was first patented in 1829.
- 1872 saw this form of compressor technology improved further as the cylinders were cooled by water to improve efficiency. This also resulted in the invention of water-jacketed cylinders.
- The first major functional development came in 1867 when an American inventor, Alfred Beach, built a pneumatic subway train in New York. He showed how passengers could be transported along a pipe through pneumatic power, with the subway running one block in 1870 to become the first of its kind in America. Permission to extend the line wasn’t granted though, meaning the subway had to be terminated after just a few months of operation.
- The late 1800’s saw John Wanamaker, an illustrious American merchant, become the first to introduce pneumatic tubes in the United States Post Office to quickly transport letters from one area of the building to another. He introduced the same system in his department store, Wanamaker’s, to transport cash to and from cashiers along with important documents from one part of the store to a different area.
- The pneumatic drill was invented in 1871 by Samuel Ingersoll, with a pneumatic-powered hammer following later in 1890 from Charles Brady.
The 1900s saw further evolution for pneumatics as components were used for the first time in jet engines in the form of centrifugal and axial-flow compressors. Further developments took place throughout the century with advancements in labor-saving devices in the form of machinery that would assist or even reduce the need for manpower as well as automatic machinery, tools and control systems.
Towards the end of the 1960s, the first digitally controlled pneumatic components began to enter the market, once again revolutionizing the way in which this highly effective equipment played a part in our everyday lives.
The pneumatics industry continues to evolve today with the leading names continuing to produce components that offer that little bit more to improve efficiency, performance and functionality. Here are just a couple of the ways in which pneumatics plays an important role today:
- Pneumatics plays an essential role in airplanes to stabilize gauges in the event of an electrical failure. This in turn enables the pilot to still have a clear understanding of and control over the important figures that will help him land the plane safely.
- Modern pneumatic cylinders offer fast, accurate power for low-pressure applications, giving a variety of industries, from packaging to amusement park rides and medical devices to automation control, simple, safe and powerful controls.
It is clear that pneumatics have a rich history that dates back many years and at present seems to show no sign of slowing down with innovative pneumatic solutions being developed and released on a regular basis. With such an important role to play in of many different industries, pneumatics is sure to continue on through the ages for some time yet.
This post was written by Oliver Kyle in partnership with BL Pneumatics; suppliers of a vast array of pneumatic components and devices from the leading manufacturers for use in a range of applications.