Tuesday, 3 October 2017



It is not often that a technology appears on the market that offers increased productivity and safety while reducing labour costs.  With this in mind, it is surprising that so few material handling professionals are aware of the benefits that can be realised through the use of pneumatic manipulators.

Pneumatic manipulators are certainly not a panacea, however, many manual material handling applications are performed faster, more accurately, and with a greater degree of safety with such a device.

Although they look like “robot arms” pneumatic manipulators are not automated devices.  They operate on extremely simple principles of physics and employ pneumatics (air pressure actuators) to counterbalance loads.  A manipulator simply renders the load weightless and allows one operator to safely and efficiently handle loads or perform tasks that would typically require two or more workers.

Manipulators are often utilised in situations that require repetitive product movement / positioning of light loads (under 80 kg) or when bulky, awkward or heavy loads (up to 300Kg) must be handled.

An example of a typical repetitive application would be palletising or de-palletising of products.  Bags or cartons of raw or finished products generally weigh between 15Kg and 80Kg and are awkward to lift and position.  A pneumatic manipulator equipped with a suction or grip device can be used to palletise such products easily and safely.

A heavier load application is exemplified by manipulators which are capable of handling paper spools weighing up to 280Kg.  A unit of this type can pick up a spool at floor level, articulate 90 degrees, and position it on a printing press spindle.

Other product types commonly handled with pneumatic manipulators include boxes, crates, barrels, drums, buckets, pails, rolls, bobbins, castings, dies, ingots, sheet materials etc etc.  Virtually any product weighing up to 300Kg can be effectively handled with these machines.  End effectors can be engineered to grip any conceivable product through a variety of means.  Suction devices, expanding mandrills, compression apparatus and hooks are typical end effectors.  Manipulators are available in a variety of forms and floor mount, ceiling mount, trolley mount and forkliftable (portable) models are all available.

Pneumatic manipulators are productivity tools and most are custom designed to meet the goals and objectives of a specific operation.  They often pay for themselves within the first year of use in labour savings.

Another incentive to use such equipment is the safety factor.  Workers compensation payments and lawsuits associated with back injury have continued to escalate.  Very few companies can afford to ignore this rising cost, and employing pneumatic manipulators in injury prone operations can significantly reduce risk.

This is technology that should not be overlooked when upgrading an existing operation or planning a new facility.  It certainly merits your investigation. 

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