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What Is a Pneumatic Cylinder? A Comprehensive Guide

What is a Pneumatic Cylinder?

Pneumatic Cylinder

The pneumatic cylinder is a mechanical device that operates by converting the energy of the compressed air into the linear motion. It is a pneumatic actuator type which is driven by the force of pressurized air and which is used to move the piston back and forth inside a cylindrical barrel. The cylinder is connected by a piston rod, which is used to change the linear motion into the application or mechanism needed.

Pneumatic cylinders are extensively used in various industries, because they are able to perform many tasks that need controlled linear motion and force. They are widely implemented in industrial automation systems, manufacturing processes, material handling equipment, packaging machines and other areas. The pneumatic cylinders are simple, reliable, low-cost and efficient. These facilities make them an appropriate option for a number of industrial settings where precision linear motion control is required.

Key Components of Pneumatic Cylinders

A pneumatic cylinder is a very accurate mechanical device which has several key components, each of which is designed to convert compressed air energy to linear movement. Let’s explore these components in detail:

  • Cylinder Barrel: The cylinder barrel is the primary part which contains the internal components. It is usually made of high-strength materials like aluminum alloys or stainless steel so that it can hold up against the high pressure created by the compressed air. The inside of the barrel is precision-machined to produce a smooth and low-friction guiding path, along which the piston slides linearly.
  • Piston: The piston is a disc-shaped element which forms the two chambers inside the cylinder barrel. When this air is compressed and introduced into one of the chambers, it will generate a pressure that will propel the piston to move in a straight line. The diameter and area of the piston are the factors that determine the force the cylinder exerts.
  • Piston Rod: The piston rod is a strong cylindrical part that passes through the cylinder barrel and it is connected to the piston. The main job of the crankshaft is to change the rotational motion produced by the piston movement into a linear motion of the external mechanism or the application. In general, piston rods are manufactured from hardened alloy steel or stainless steel so that they can withstand the high loads and stresses which are generated.
  • End Caps: The end caps at both the ends of the cylinder barrel as sealing elements and ports for intake and exhaust of compressed air. They are machined with exact tolerances to accommodate various seals, bearings, and cushioning components. Cylinder heads are usually made from a sturdy material such as aluminum alloy or cast iron and are securely fastened to the cylinder barrel with tie rods or bolts.
  • Tie Rods: In the great majority of pneumatic cylinder designs, tie rods are used for the purpose of firmly holding the end caps and for giving the assembly the strength required to withstand high pressures. The rods are screwed and run along the cylinder barrel in parallel. They are tightened by nuts or other securing devices, so a strong and secure link is achieved.
  • Seals and Bearings: The pneumatic cylinder is equipped with a number of seals and bearings to keep the air leakage minimum and to ensure the smooth operation. The piston seals that are placed between the piston and the cylinder barrel provide a tight seal, while the rod seals help prevent the air from leaking around the piston rod. The bearings—usually made of low-friction materials such as bronze or special composites—provide for the smooth linear motion and minimize the wear of the piston rod and the cylinder.
  • Cushioning Mechanisms: At the end of the piston stroke, the cushioning systems are put into service to slow down the movement and to protect the end caps from the impact. They can be different mechanisms, such as pneumatic cushions, shock absorbers, or elastomeric bumpers, and they help to reduce noise and vibration, as well as the damage to cylinder components.
  • Position Sensing: Generally, most of the pneumatic cylinders have position sensing systems, which are done with the help of reed switches or Hall-effect sensors. These sensors are used to detect the linear position of the piston inside the barrel of the cylinder. Such feedback is of importance for exact motion control and positioning of automated systems.

Understanding the main components’ functions and design attributes, manufacturers can improve the pneumatic cylinders’ performance, durability, and reliability for the industrial applications and the varying environments of operation.

How Does a Pneumatic Cylinder Work?

The working principle of pneumatic cylinders is air filling the cylinder body and then removing it. There are two main types of pneumatic cylinders: a simple mechanism and a double-acting one.

A single-acting pneumatic cylinder is filled with the compressed air at one end of its cylinder body, which pushes the piston and piston rod in one direction. A mechanical spring or another force is then utilized to move the piston from its initial position back. These rods are intended for use in scenarios in which the force is only one-dimensional and in one direction.

However, double-acting pneumatic cylinders can also provide biaxial movement by providing compressed air into the both ends of the cylinder body. The air is compressed into the piston and piston rod which move in the same direction as the airflow. The air on the side of the other is forced out. The piston moves in the back and forth manner by changing the air flow between the two ends. This is the reversing trend of the previous movement.

Pneumatic cylinder stroke length, speed, and force produced are determined by several factors. These include the bore size of the cylinder, the piston area, the pressure of compressed air, and the load being moved.

Applications of Pneumatic Cylinders

Applications of Pneumatic Cylinders

Pneumatic cylinders are one of the most common components found in industries because of their simplicity, reliability, and cost efficiency.

  • Industrial Automation: Air cylinders, which actuators consist of, are popular in automated manufacturing process in, for instance, pick-and-place processes, material handling, and assembly lines.
  • Packaging Machinery: They are the main actors of packaging equipment that they perform by executing the tasks of positioning, clamping and sealing.
  • Automotive Industry: Pneumatic cylinders have found their application in the automobile industry in many areas, for example, braking systems, suspension systems and actuators.
  • Food and Beverage Industry: The main reason for pneumatic cylinders being used in food processing and packaging tools is that they are clean and straightforward to manage.
  • Robotics and Automation: Pneumatic cylinders are among the most widely used tools in robotics systems and automation machines to ensure precise motion control.

Pneumatic cylinders have been observed to be versatile enough to produce linear motion and force which can be controlled. This has enabled them to become an integral part of all industries and applications.

Types of Pneumatic Cylinders

Pneumatic Cylinders

The pneumatic cylinders are available in different varieties to meet the application needs. Some of the most common types include:

Single-Acting Cylinders

Single-acting cylinders are designed for moving only in one direction with the help of compressed air. A mechanical spring or external force is used to push the piston and piston rods back to the initial position. These cylinders are perfect for such situations where the linear force is required in one direction, for instance, clamping, pressing or ejecting operations.

Double-Acting Cylinders

A double-acting cylinder produces a linear bi-directional movement by releasing compressed air into both ends of the cylinder body. Compressed air alternately is being supplied to the front and rear ends of the cylinder, the piston and the piston rod are being pushed in opposite directions. This design has two main features: increased force capability, longer stroke length, and exact control in both directions.

Rodless Cylinders

Rodless cylinders, also known as cylinder-less cylinders, provide a rodless construction that removes the need for a protruding piston rod. In contrast, the piston is directly linked to the carriage that is positioned over the cylinder body and supports the load. This reduced design allows the rodless cylinders to be utilized in operations with limited space, such as material handling or packaging.

Compact Cylinders

Compact cylinders are formulated for applications where space is the major concern. The cylinders can maintain required force and stroke capabilities while having a smaller overall footprint. Hence, they are the best choice for integrating them into machinery that has a small space or compact machinery. Cylinders with a shorter stroke length are generally used in compact cylinders.

Rotary Actuators

While not actually cylinders, rotary actuators are pneumatic devices that transform the linear motion into the rotational motion. They are made of a piston assembly, which is linked to a rack-and-pinion or vane mechanism, converting linear motion of the piston into rotary motion. Rotary actuators are used for valve actuation, positioning tasks, and other cases that demand controlled rotational motion.

Guided Cylinders

Guided cylinders, also known as linear slide cylinders, have extra guidance components in order to provide a high precision and stable linear movement. These cylinders have a piston rod which is supported by linear bearings or guide rods and it is prevented from any sideways movement or bending while in operation. Guided cylinders are widely used in heavy-duty, high-accuracy or long-stroke applications, including precision machinery, robotics, or material handling systems. The guide mechanism which has been added, helps in the alignment of the piston rod, thereby reducing the wear and tear and leading to an increase in the lifespan of the cylinder.

Telescopic Cylinders

The telescopic cylinders are meant to give stroke lengths that are longer than the retracted space. These devices consists of several concentric tubes that telescope when air pressure is applied. Telescopic cylinders are frequently applied in material handling, packaging or positioning applications where long stroke lengths are necessary but the space is limited.

Here is a clear table:

TypeMotion DirectionForce/ControlStructural FeaturesTypical Applications
Single-ActingUnidirectional LinearLower Output Force, Influenced by SpringSimple StructureClamping, Pressing, Ejecting
Double-ActingBidirectional LinearHigher Force Output, Precise Bidirectional ControlRequires Two Air PortsIndustrial Automation, Precise Positioning
RodlessLinearComparable to Standard CylindersCompact, No Protruding RodSpace-Constrained Material Handling, Packaging
CompactLinearComparable to Standard CylindersSmaller Overall Size, Shorter StrokeCompact Machinery, Confined Spaces
Rotary ActuatorsRotaryHigher Torque OutputConverts Linear to Rotary MotionValve Actuation, Positioning Tasks
GuidedPrecise LinearComparable to Standard CylindersAdded Guidance Mechanism, Prevents Lateral MovementHigh Precision, Heavy Loads, Long Strokes
TelescopicExtended Stroke LengthsLower Force OutputNested, Multi-Stage StructureLong Stroke Requirements with Limited Space

Pneumatic Cylinder Standards and Specifications

In order to guarantee interoperability and constant performance, pneumatic cylinders are manufactured using various industrial standards and specifications. Some of the most common standards include:

  • ISO 6432: According to this standard, the dimensions and performance characteristics of single-rod pneumatic cylinders with bore sizes from 8 mm to 25 mm and working pressure of up to 10 bar are specified.
  • ISO 15552: The standard covers pneumatic cylinders with single-rod and double-rod configurations, with bore sizes ranging from 32 mm to 320 mm and a maximum operating pressure of 10 bar.
  • ISO 21287: This standard is applicable to single-rod compressed air cylinders with bore sizes from 20 mm to 100 mm and a maximum operating pressure of 10 bar.

The compliance with these industrial standards guarantees the same level of performance, the possibility of mixing parts from different manufacturers, and the possibility of mounting accessories and peripherals.

Pneumatic Cylinder Mounting and Accessories

The right mounting of the cylinders and the use of the proper tools are the critical factors of pneumatic cylinders to operate in a safe and effective manner. Various mounting options are available, including:

You can easily choose from the numerous mounting options:

  • Tie-Rod Mounting: This mounting style is achieved by means of tying rods which go over the end caps. It makes the cylinder securely mounted on a surface or machine part.
  • Flange Mounting: The two-point attachment scheme of this configuration is achieved by connecting the end cap to a flange so that the mounting is secure and the force is transmitted without any problems.
  • Pivot Mounting: Pivot mounts allow for small misalignments or deviations from the path and thus the bending stress on the piston rod is decreased.

In addition to mounting options, various accessories are available to enhance the functionality and performance of pneumatic cylinders, such as:Moreover, a variety of accessories are also offered to improve the performance and functionality of pneumatic cylinders, like:

  • Position Sensors: The sensors, usually reed switches or Hall-effect sensors, detect the piston’s position inside the cylinder, consequently, allow for precise control of motion.
  • Cushioning Devices: The pistons speed decelerating devices, like adjustable pneumatic cushions, shock absorbers, etc. are meant to reduce the stroke end impact and noise.
  • Pneumatic Grippers: A lot of these robots are programmed to do pick and place operations and material handling task and often these tasks are combined with pneumatic grippers and pneumatic cylinders.

The type of mounting and all the accessories needed, such as installation, adjustment, and performance of pneumatic cylinders in different applications is of high significance.

How to Choose the Right Pneumatic Cylinders?

pneumatic cylinders

Choosing the pneumatic cylinder that will perfectly meet the specific requirements of an application is not an easy task as many fundamental issues should be taken into account in order to achieve the best performance, reliability and cost-effectiveness. Here are some key considerations:

  • Force Requirements: Determine the amount of force that will be needed to move the load and factors such as weight, friction, and acceleration. For example, the force needed for the material handling application may depend on weight of the object being moved, the coefficient of friction between object and the surface, and the acceleration required to move the object smoothly.
  • Stroke Length: Take a linear travel distance for the application into account and choose a cylinder with the appropriate stroke length. For packaging, the stroke length should be modified according to the size of the product or the distance between the different stations.
  • Operating Pressure: Ensure that the cylinder’s rated operating pressure is the same as the available compressed air pressure of the system you are connecting to. The operation of most pneumatic industrial systems is within the range of 6-10 bar (87-145 psi). Therefore, the choice of the cylinder that is compatible with this system pressure is the primary concern for the best performance.
  • Mounting Style: Take into account the space you have and the mounting needs and decide on the mounting style that fits the best. For example, tie-rod, flange, or pivot mounting. The miniaturized or rodless cylinders with flange mounting can be preferred in confined spaces, and the pivot mounts are also available for applications that have slight misalignment.
  • Environmental Conditions: Determine the operating condition, including temperature, humidity, and possible contaminants, to choose the cylinders that have appropriate materials and coatings. In severe environments, stainless steel cylinders or cylinders with special coatings may be necessary to prevent corrosion or early wear.
  • Speed and Positioning Accuracy: Identify the speed and positioning precision requirements for the application in question, as this will determine the size of cylinder, cushioning mechanisms and position sensors. The applications with high speed or the ones requiring a fixed position may need a larger bore size, adjustable cushioning, and sensors for feedback for position.
  • Industry Standards and Compatibility: Verification that the cylinder you choose meets the standards of the industry and is compatible with the existing equipment, accessories, and mounting components is necessary. The common standards like ISO 6432, ISO 15552, and ISO 21287 which ensure interoperability and integration simplicity are the ones that are used.

By taking into account these factors and consulting professionals or pneumatic cylinder manufacturers, you can select the most suitable pneumatic cylinder for your particular case, which will guarantee the maximum efficiency, reliability and cost-effectiveness.


In today’s era of automated industrial and manufacturing systems where pneumatic cylinders are the fundamental components that help in converting compressed air into linear motion with high precision and less cost. The guide explained the basic principles, main components, various types, and features of pneumatic cylinders that should be considered when choosing and using them in different applications. Engineers and professionals can take advantage of such multifaceted tools in order to not only enhance efficiency and productivity but also to create new innovations in their respective fields of work.

Get a Free Quote From OMCH·HEBAI


The people who are in search of high quality pneumatic cylinders or who need professional help to decide which solution is the best for their application, contacting OMCH·HEBAI is the best solution. We are the market leader in the production of pneumatic cylinders and their associated components, providing all our products that have been tested and are compliant with the industry standards, and that deliver long service life and high performance.

We pride ourselves on having a team of experts who will go beyond just listening to your specific needs. They will come up with customized solutions that will be tailored to your requirements. We can deliver either standard or custom-engineered pneumatic cylinders as we have the competent skills and the requisite resources to meet your needs.

Contact us now to get a complimentary estimate or to let our knowledgeable staff help you with the selection of a product. It is our commitment that you will be pleased with our services and will be with you through all the stages, starting from product selection, installation and after that.


What is the difference between pneumatic cylinders and hydraulic cylinders?

The pneumatic cylinder utilizes compressed air to generate force and motion, while the hydraulic cylinder relies on pressurized fluid. Pneumatic cylinders are in general lightweight, clean and therefore more suitable for applications that require less force, for example, packaging or material handling. The hydraulic cylinders, however, are able to produce more force and are usually used in heavy-duty applications, such as in construction equipment or industrial presses.

How does a single-rod pneumatic cylinder differ from a double-rod (through-rod) cylinder?

In a single-acting pneumatic (air) cylinder, the piston rod is attached to one side of the piston, whereas in a double-acting (through-rod) cylinder, the piston rod extends from both sides of the piston. Piston rods with double-rod cylinders are capable of equal force and speed in both extension and retraction strokes, since the area of the piston rod is considered both on the far side and near side of the piston.

What is the purpose of rubber bumpers or cushioning in pneumatic cylinders?

Rubber bumpers or cushioning mechanisms are used to slow down the movement of the piston at the end of its stroke, thus reducing the impact and keeping the piston and cylinder components safe from damage. Damping is used to reduce the noise, vibration and rebound of the piston, thereby achieving its gentle and controlled operation.

What are ISO standards for pneumatic cylinders, and why are they important?

The ISO standards, as in ISO 6432, ISO 15552, and ISO 21287, are the ones which describe the dimensions, performance characteristics, and mounting specifications of the pneumatic cylinders. Maintaining these standards guarantees that there is a common ground for interchangeability, mounting accessories compatibility and smooth integration of the device with other components from different manufacturers.

What factors should be considered when selecting the mounting dimensions for a pneumatic cylinder?

Factors to be taken into account while choosing the mounting dimensions are available space constrains, required stroke length, the force and stability needed, and the compatibility with the existing mounting accessories or machine tools. It is mounting that is required to be done correctly for the pneumatic cylinder to work correctly and reliably.

How does the opposing spring force in single-acting cylinders affect their performance?

In the single acting pneumatic cylinders, the spring force on the opposite side works against the force produced by compressed air during the extension stroke. This leads to a smaller output force on the pusher rod as compared to the retraction stroke where the spring force helps in the movement. On the other hand, the stroke length is limited by the length of the spring that is compressed.

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