Clippard has spent his career at the company that bears his name. He
worked at the company, started by his father, part time while in high school,
learning, among other things, the intricacies of machining. After graduating
from Ohio State in 1963 as a mechanical engineer, he designed components for the
company for several years, then became head of the engineering department. He
became president in 1977. Since its founding in the 1940s, Clippard Instrument
Laboratory has evolved from electronic instruments manufacturer to manufacturer
of pneumatic devices.
Design News: What are the major challenges ahead for the pneumatic industry?
Clippard: We need to do a better job of educating the business and technical communities as to the strengths and benefits of pneumatics. Most pneumatic education comes from on-the-job training, which at best usually exposes a person to only a small part of this broad field. In the product area, we need to design features into new and existing products that will provide better performance and convenience. Components of a system need to be faster and easier to mount, modify, maintain, and monitor.
In our area of miniature pneumatics, most engineers are not aware of the control systems that are available. When thinking of control applications, they automatically think of electronics, yet pneumatics can be the most cost-effective solution. Too often, we see companies opting for $10,000 solutions to what really are $1,000 problems. Instead, they should be looking for solutions that match the scope of the problem, and our industry has to convince people that many times pneumatics will affordably fit the bill.
Q: Given the perception that there is not much innovation in fluid power, how can the industry attract bright young engineers?
A: First of all, it is a false perception. There is plenty of innovation in the industry. Because pneumatics is practical and here and now, many R&D people don't look at it as closely as they do new technologies. Our innovation occurs not only in major component development, but in the form of constant incremental steps, often within existing products. It is the unique application of a variety of pneumatic components to solve conventional problems that generates innovation. The almost unlimited ability of pneumatics to solve everyday problems is very rewarding. The attraction of this industry for me is the ability to accomplish something and see immediate results of your work. That kind of satisfaction can really get people excited. We have to communicate that to young engineers coming out of college.
Q: Is there a future for servo-pneumatics?
A: Positioning is an important basic application, and servo-pneumatics certainly compete effectively with servo and stepper-motor positioners. Many types of servo systems are expensive and customers should carefully evaluate those applications for the most economical solution.
Q: Will pneumatics expand their role in industrial automation?
A: Yes, definitely. Automation requires a unique mixture of power and control. Pneumatics offers outstanding design and operating advantages in both these areas. There is a spectrum of automation that ranges from very simple to very complex. The greatest potential for most businesses to improve their productivity is by making incremental improvements in the beginning and middle of the spectrum. This is exactly where pneumatics--valves, cylinders, controls, and sensors--can be the most help. Many movements associated with automation tend to be digital in nature--open/close, on/off, up/down, in/out--and pneumatic cylinders handle these movements well. For power, speed, reliability, and cost-effectiveness, little can ap- proach the capabilities of pneumatic cylinders. They are a basic building block of automation.
In the area of controls, small valves can be incorporated easily into circuits that can effectively handle the most sophisticated set of inputs and outputs. While reliable and affordable, such control circuits will generally provide large productivity increases. We have seen simple, manual machines semi-automated with three to four hundred dollars worth of pneumatics. The payback was a 250% increase in production. Manufacturers wanting to compete in a global economy cannot afford to pass up those kinds of gains.
Q: What strategies should the fluid power industry employ against the electronics industry?
A: The industry should join hands with the electronics industry, combining the best aspects of both technologies. Electronics are good at handling complex logic, while fluid power's advantage is very high power output. There are many ways to merge these capabilities to improve control solutions. Pneumatic manufacturers must demonstrate to the customer the advantages of pneumatic components integrated with electronics. Rather than thinking of them as mutually exclusive, the best engineers will employ the benefits of both disciplines.