Designed by engineers at Precision PCB Products (San Clemente, CA), the Final Touch 101 printed circuit board router used pneumatics instead of electric motors as a means of holding printed circuit boards in place during the so-called "de-panelization" process, in which small circuit boards are cut from large electronic panels. By doing so, engineers said the OEM was able to deliver a smaller, tidier machine.
"We were able to put all the pneumatics in a very small package," notes Mike Gibbons, district sales manager for Norgren Inc., which supplied the pneumatic components. "The valve stack that we used weighs only 4 or 5 lbs." Gibbons adds that the six-valve stack measures a mere 5.25 inches long, making it more than 20 percent shorter than a comparable stack using a more traditional design.
In the routing application, OEM engineers employed the compact valve stack as a means of controlling and delivering pressurized air to tiny air cylinders that hold the printed circuit boards in place during the routing process. They say that the ability to eliminate inches in applications such as those as well as in other tightly packaged applications, such as end-of-arm robotics and pick-and-place machinery, is critical.
The company claims that the key to the creation of the smaller, lighter stack is twofold: Norgren engineers incorporated small, high-flow valves; and they employed a unique manifold design that combines the so-called "subbase" with the valves in a single block.
"Traditionally, you'd have a pneumatic subbase and an electrical subbase, and you'd screw the valves on top," says Brady Webb, valves business development manager for Norgren Inc. "But by combining the subbase and the valve into a single block, we cleaned up the flow path and maximized air flow through the valve."
Indeed, Norgren's 10-mm-wide VM10 valves used in the application offer a Cv of 0.440 (440 L/min), approximately two to three times more than that of competing pneumatic valves of similar size.
Norgren engineers attribute the higher flow capabilities to a hinged design that connects the subbase to the valves. The hinge, they say, eliminates the need for tie rods, which reportedly take up space and contort the flow path, which lowers the flow rate. Norgren engineers say that by eliminating the tie rods, they've cleaned up the valve's internal configuration.
"The internal pathways that go to the pressure ports and outlet ports on this valve are very wide open," Gibbons says. "It's a direct shot through the valve, so you don't get the turbulence and other issues that can cause flow to drop off."
To come close to the 440-L/min flow rate with a more traditional pneumatic valve design, Norgren engineers say they would have needed 18-mm-wide valves.
Moreover, the configuration simplified assembly of the PCB routing machine because it allowed the valves to simply snap onto a standard DIN rail, thereby speeding manufacturing.
During operation of the routing machine, the VM10 valves deliver air at three different pressures: 15 psi for normal operation of the "pressure feet" that hold the PC boards in place; 60 psi for situations calling for tighter pressure-foot clamping; and 80 psi for other pneumatic functions, such as opening and closing the chuck inside the router's spindle.
By choosing pneumatics over electronics to accomplish all that, Norgren engineers claim they made the machine smaller and less costly.
Simple Design: Precision PCB
Products used the VM10 valves to simplify the design and reduce costs on
its new Final Touch 101 printed circuit board router (inset). The high
flow rate of Norgren's V10 valves, enabled engineers to employ 10-mm wide
valves, instead of 18-mm designs.