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Space saving pneumatics

Space saving pneumatics
The market for pneumatics is now so competitive that any new launch has to really push the boundaries. Mark Simms reports.

There are still plenty of markets where, if you can develop a new product that offers, say, a 10% benefit over the competitors or the previous generation, or even a 15% advantage, then you've really got something. Pneumatics, though, according to Festo, is not one of those markets. So instead of innovations that deliver incremental improvements in performance, Festo is concentrating on developments that bring improvements of 100% - real step changes that deliver functions that simply weren't available in the past, with added flexbility and reduced cost compared with the market standard.

Delivering this sort of innovation needs a move away from being a pure product supplier to being a real solution provider, with a greater understanding of what different markets really need. Dr Ansgar Kriwet, a Member of Festo's Management Board, comments: "In the past, we've been a technology driven company. But now we've adopted a new outside-in perspective, looking both at what our customers need from us, and what their customers need from them. We look at the trends in their market sectors. All of this now drives our innovation. And we have streamlined our production so that we can bring new products to market in the most cost-effective and timely way."

Market consultation
Industry segment platforms have been set up within Festo to consult with customers and pull in the ideas from the market that will drive product development. As product concepts are developed, the potential value and benefits of these products are discussed with customers, to see where any improvements might be made. "The benefits are enormous," says Kriwet. "We learn a huge amount during the process, which helps us to improve the products. We take knowledge from the market, but we also motivate the market, because customers feel they are getting the products that they want and need." 

You might think that all of this consultation would slow the development process down, but Kriwet says this is not so, since what takes a little longer at the early stages of design saves time in the later stages. "Right now the overall development time is about the same, and in the future we believe it will actually be quicker," he says. One of the first products to emerge from this new development regime is the VUVG valve range, which Kriwet says is one of Festo's most successful product launches, delivering real benefits for the market. According to Festo, the VUVG is the pneumatic valve the market has been waiting for, delivering a size-to-performance ratio never before achieved.

Higher performance, reduced space
The VUVG sets new standards in terms of what Festo describes as its 'footprint' compared to valves currently on the market. The 'footprint' value describes the size-to-performance ratio. In 90% of all applications, a smaller size valve compared to existing valves can often be used, because VUVG valves of the same size achieve greater dynamics and up to 100% more flow for faster cycle times. Another cost-reducing factor is the integration of two 3/2-way valves in one valve housing. One VUVG valve is therefore sufficient for operating two single-acting cylinders. This reduces the required installation space by half.

The high power density of the VUVG valve is the result of the patented cartridge principle from Festo. Its unique seal profile enables vacuum operation, very high flow rates and an extended pressure range of up to 10 bar. It also offers faster cycle times due to the increased pressure and the use of smaller cylinders increase the dynamics. As a result, when using the VUVG with, for example, a Festo DSNU cylinder with a 25mm piston diameter, 160mm stroke and a tube length of 350mm, the cylinder's advancing time at 10 bar is 88% faster than with other similar valves. The cartridge principle enables neatly separated two-pressure operation. With the VUVG, there is no overlapping between the air ducts, as is common with other valves. 

Valve installation is extremely user-friendly, as there is no need for adapters or mounting attachments. Thanks to the axial mounting bores individual valves can be assembled in series without a special manifold strip or brackets, creating a valve manifold from one single valve. Multiple pressure zones can be created quickly and easily using separating plates. Captive screws and positive-locking seals with specified installation directions help to save further assembly time. An integrated LED provides a 360 degree view for easily visible status display. 

A variable electrical connection concept reduces the complexity of ordering and warehousing for all users who require a valve with variable electrics. The patented electronics box can be replaced with just one click. The valve housing remains the same, only the connection option is changed. An astonishing range of variants can be fitted, regardless of the connection options; whether M8 or stranded wire, everything is compatible. And lastly, ordering is simplicity itself thanks to the clearly structured order code.

"Only a truly international organisation could drive its design philosphy in this direction," says Kriwet. "It relies on being able to get input from customers across the world, not just locally. We have to be able to identify the driving factors in any market, and then look at what we can do as supplier to meet those needs. This outside-in process is changing our whole approach to product design and development. We have to strive for innovations that drive a sea change in performance compared with the market standards."
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