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Using the aforementioned explanation of vacuum level measurement, we shall now apply this to sizing a vacuum cup. There are many types of vacuum cups available from a large range of manufacturers. The primary use of vacuum cups is in automated machinery, such as packaging lines, robotic palletizing, automotive steel stamping, and so on. Selecting the correct vacuum cup for each application is key in enabling the machinery to operate in an efficient, safe, and reliable fashion. The most common selection process is vacuum cup size because the larger the cup, the higher the holding capacity. However, choosing the cup based on the size is not the first selection criteria that should be considered. Because this is the most common first selection made by the user, however, let’s begin by explaining how a vacuum cup’s size determines its holding force. The shape and height of a vacuum cup is completely irrelevant as to how much holding force it will produce. It’s all about the surface area. That is, how large the surface area is at the point where the cup meets the load to be handled. Fig. 6 shows two vacuum cups: a “bellows” design on the left and a “flat” design on the right. Both cups measure 75 mm or 2.95" diameter at the pickup face or sealing lip. Therefore, the following would apply.

Atmospheric pressure at sea level is assumed to be 14.7 psi (pound per square inch). The action of vacuum is the removal of atmospheric pressure in a known volume­—in this case, a vacuum cup against a piece of plastic sheet, which is the object being handled. The area of the sealing lip is 6.84 in.2 using (A = πr2) 3.142 x (1.475" x 1.475"). Consequently, if this cup is being used at sea level, let’s imagine in New York City with a vacuum pump that can generate a vacuum of 24"Hg (-80 kPa), then this cup has a theoretical holding force of 80 lbs (14.7 psi x 6.84 in.2 x 0.8). In this example, 0.8 represents -80kPa, which is 80% of a “full vacuum.” BOTH the flat cup and bellow cup have the same holding force. Something that is very important to note: the vacuum “inside” the cup is not gripping the load. The inside of the vacuum cup has a lower atmospheric pressure. It’s the HIGHER atmospheric pressure on the OUTSIDE of the cup clamping it against the work piece as shown in Fig. 7. The differential in atmospheric pressure is pushing DOWN on the vacuum cup and pushing UP on the underside of the work piece. Remember, a vacuum cleaner doesn’t suck; the higher atmospheric pressure on the outside pushes dirt into the vacuum hose.

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