Pneumatics deals with compressed air-powered systems and occupies a niche in manufacturing industry. Pneumatic actuators like cylinders have advantages of low-cost, high power-to-size and weight ratio, compliance and are hazard-proof as needed in many applications. Many students of mechanical/robotics/mechatronics/production/manufacturing engineering are not introduced to hands-on laboratory activities in pneumatics and the related discipline of hydraulics. Even existing pneumatic experimental systems involve manual connection and testing of components and subsystems, and so the learning outcomes are limited.
Our pneumatic experimental module is a DIY pneumatic computer control system, that has the advantage of introducing open source microcontroller programming and sensor interfacing to students at an early stage of their studies. Inexpensive commercial off-the-shelf components like cylinders, valves, and sensors are integrated into the computer-controlled system for custom laboratory experiments. An innovative feature of the system is that in addition to low-cost on-off and flow control valves, 3D printed proportional servovalves are designed and printed at a fraction of the cost of commercial servovalve-amplifier subsystems. Another merit of this system is that with the experience and confidence gained from assembly of the system from the basic components, faculty and students can explore design and fabrication of advanced pneumatic system prototypes for applications like stamping, transportation, legged robots, etc.