Makers of pneumatic plug-and-play manifolds say that demand for their new breed of products is climbing, as manufacturers take aim at slashing production costs.
The manifolds, which incorporate pneumatic connectors and electrical wiring, enable OEMs to easily add extra solenoid-type valves to pneumatically powered machines in the field simply by snapping on new pieces. The units are said to be so simple that users with little or no technical background can assemble them, and OEMs are simplifying field modifications to their machines and saving money in the process.
Makers of the plug-and-play manifolds say they are being adopted across a wide variety of industries, including automotive, medical, packaging, and food processing, as well as other automation applications.
"Today, a majority of our customers are purchasing pre-built manifolds, whether for discrete connections or fieldbus connections," notes Jeff Welker, applications engineer for Numatics, Inc. (www.numatics.com). "The plug-and-play capability is nice because they can easily add to their manifold out in the field."
Numatics, along with other companies, such as Festo Corp. (www.festo.com) and SMC Corp. (www.smcusa.com), among others, offer pre-built, plug-and-play pneumatic manifolds. Numatics offers the capabilities in its Generation 2000 line of valve manifolds and SMC has more recently rolled out plug-and-play performance in its Series SV solenoid valve line.
SMC says that the new product line, announced earlier this year, offers many of the same capabilities as more traditional valve blocks. The SV line is IP65 and CE compliant, and is offered in both serial interface and parallel wiring configurations. Serial units are available in centralized and de-centralized designs. Decentralized versions offer DeviceNet, Profibus-DP, and Remote I/O protocols, controlling up to four branches with 32 I/O per branch. Centralized units offer DeviceNet, Profibus-DP, CC-Link, and AS-1 protocols with up to 64 I/O.
Engineers who make the plug-and-play units say that the new breed of manifolds are starkly different than their predecessors in terms of ease of use in the field.
"In the past, if someone had an eight-station manifold, and they wanted to add two valves, there was no easy way to do it," says Balaji Rao, senior product manager for SMC. "Now, that same customer can buy two more blocks and just snap them together. There's no extra wiring or pneumatic connections that need to be added."
Engineers at both SMC and Numatics say the valves are seeing use in the semiconductor industry, in pick-and-place machinery, in automotive for robotic welding, and in a wide variety of automated manufacturing applications.