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Types of Pneumatic Cylinders

Air Cylinder Options for Any Industry or Application

When selecting a pneumatic (air) cylinder for industrial or manufacturing purposes, there are a variety of options to consider. Each type offers features that make it suitable for certain applications but evaluating all of the possible options takes time and expertise. The Nopak team is happy to help you find the ideal fluid power cylinder for your company’s specific application. This short guide will give an overview of the major categories of pneumatic cylinders that Nopak manufactures and which type might be best for you.

Why Use a Pneumatic Cylinder?

Before evaluating types and specs, the first step to choosing the right cylinder is to determine what fluid power source should be used–most commonly, pneumatic or hydraulic. Pneumatic power, which relies on pressurized gas, offers several advantages over hydraulic power. Air is a clean power source, which eliminates concerns regarding leaks in environments where a leak would cause major issues, such as sterile pharmaceutical production. Thanks to its low combustibility, air is also more suitable than hydraulic fluid for high-temperature operating conditions and in applications or surroundings where an electrical spark could ignite leaking fluid.

Consider using pneumatic systems instead of hydraulic systems where inertia is a concern. Hydraulic oil has greater inertia than gases do. When the application calls for fast acceleration and deceleration, and when something must be opened and closed quickly, the weight of the oil can be a problem. Hydraulic or oil systems have higher frictional pressure losses due to their relatively higher viscosity compared with the viscosity of air. Our hydraulic systems are designed to contain a reservoir that holds fluid and it is crucial that they are made to be leak-free. In pneumatic systems, the air is taken in from the surrounding atmosphere and exhausted back into the atmosphere. Because of this, the system can also be less costly. Air is a reliable, fast-moving, and inexpensive source of power.

Pneumatic systems have some limitations. Air is compressible, which makes it nearly impossible to achieve precise and controlled velocities of the actuator rod. This also means that accurate positioning is not easy to achieve. Air is limited to low pressures (about 250 PSI) due to the dangers of explosion if any of the components get ruptured. As a result, pneumatic systems are limited to low-power applications. Hydraulic systems can be as high as 10,000 PSI, sometimes even higher, making them suitable for high-power systems. The low viscosity of air, which helps to reduce the effects of inertia, can also be detrimental to the system. Air is a poor lubricant. By comparison, a hydraulic system does not need additional lubrication.

If you have determined that pneumatic power is right for your application, there are a few major categories of cylinders to consider–or you can work with us to engineer a custom air cylinder.

Low Pressure Cast Head Cylinders

Nopak offers a line of low pressure cast head cylinders–what we call our “Class 1”–for normal applications where low-cost, rugged air cylinders are required. The cylinder tubes can be made from either steel or aluminum, depending on the size and weight requirements involved. A highlight of this cylinder type is the robust seal, which is ideal for protecting the cylinder’s inner workings from “dirty” operating environments. These cylinders perform with minimum maintenance under rigorous operating conditions.

Although this class of cylinders is not pre-designed to NFPA standards, Nopak’s team of experts can custom-engineer a cylinder to meet your specifications. Our exclusive design has been user-proven with over 80 years of experience as the workhorse of the industry.

Sample industries/applications:

  • Asphalt batching
  • Foundries
  • Road construction

Mill Duty Cylinders

Nopak’s mill duty cylinder design, our “Class M,” is very similar to our low pressure cast head cylinders. These cylinders have all the same features, plus recessed gaskets, oversize rods, steel tubing with welded flanges, and bolted cylinder heads. Our mill duty cylinders are strong and rugged in construction, specially designed for heavy-duty applications.

Sample industries/applications:

  • Mines
  • Quarries
  • Steel mills
  • Primary metals

Intermediate Pressure Square Head Cylinders

Nopak’s intermediate pressure square head cylinders (our “Class 6”) are designed to NFPA standards. This simplifies the task of replacing an existing cylinder or matching up to common dimensions and mounting requirements. These cylinders feature an excellent seal design and are appropriate for many challenging operating environments. They are lighter, smaller, and less expensive than comparable hydraulic options.

Sample industries/applications:

  • Food processing
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Lumber mills

NFPA Aluminum Cylinders

Our Class 5A NFPA aluminum cylinders are similar in many ways to the intermediate pressure class. They are interchangeable with cylinders of the same pressure classification in terms of construction and performance. The primary advantage of this cylinder type is that the aluminum construction makes it extremely lightweight and fast-acting. Stainless steel fasteners, rods, and nuts can be used to add corrosion resistance in outdoor or moisture-prone environments without sacrificing the weight savings of the aluminum construction.

Sample industries/applications:

  • High-speed automation
  • General industrial applications
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Food processing (unless stainless steel is needed for operations that are in contact with food/consumable substances)
  • Cylinders requiring reed switches mounted on the cylinder’s body

Custom-designed Cylinders

In addition to our standard products, Nopak offers custom-designed cylinders for specific applications. Here are just a few of our team’s customization capabilities:

  • Tubing made from carbon composite, brass, bronze, and stainless steel material
  • Multi-position cylinders
  • Tandem cylinders
  • Stroke adjust mechanisms
  • Non-rotate feature
  • Rod lock mechanisms
  • Polygon-shaped rods (P3 profile)
  • Floating pistons

Explore Nopak’s Pneumatic Cylinder Offerings

Nopak offers a broad range of air cylinders to suit a variety of industries. We specialize in customizing your cylinders with the materials, dimensions, and component options that your application demands. Try our product configurator to find the NFPA-compliant cylinder that is best suited for your needs. If you are still unsure about what cylinder type to choose or you have specialized operating requirements, our team would be happy to assist you. Request a quote today!

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