Pneumatics differs from other branches of engineering in that it makes use of gas or pressurized air; like hydraulics, its uses derive from an application of fluid power (Which is the use of fluids under pressure, aimed at generating power), yet its use of easily compressible gases (Such as air) sets it apart from hydraulics, which makes use of relatively incompressible liquids.
Its name derives from the greek word “Pneuma”, which means “Breath” or “Air”
The way in which industrial pneumatic systems function can be summarized in the following way: an electrically powered compressor (A device used to increase the pressure of a gas, by reducing its volume) powers, through the force generated by the electrically-induced compression of the gas, a series of cilinders, air motors and other pneumatic devices, which in turn perform a task.
Such a system is controlled by putting in place solenoid valves or actuators.
Pneumatics has several other uses in many different areas, some of which are: medicine, construction, mining and most industrial jobs. Pneumatic systems are an essential part of most automated systems, and pneumatics constitutes the basis of the functioning of many daily tools we rely on: whenever air is compressed, it can be used to perform work.
Such a system is especially advantageous as it relies on the atmospheric supply of air and it usually requires little manteinance, as gas, being compressible, absorbs excess force, making equipment less subject to damage.
A few examples of commonly used pneumatic systems: the air brakes on trains, buses and trucks; dental drills; vacuum pumps; pressure sensors and regulators; jackhammers; motors and tires; barostats, and many more. Even balloons can be considered as a pneumatic system, as they in fact constitute an example of inflatable structure.
We owe the development of the modern pneumatic devices, which are essential to our technology, to German physicist Otto von Guericke (1602-1686), who invented the vacuum pump.