A billion here, a billion there...

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Everett Dirksen, the late Senator from Illinois, is famously quoted as saying, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money." Anyone who follows Washington politics is probably numb to the sums that get kicked around and how much the government spends.

But when you step back and look at the big picture, a billion is a really big number. Consider:

If you earn $50,000 per year, it will take 20,000 years to earn a billion dollars.

If you commute 25 miles to work each way, you’ll have to work for 80,000 years to drive a billion miles.

And if you consume a pizza a week, you’ll dig into your billionth pie in a little more than 19 million years. (Will pizza even exist then?)

That’s why a new pneumatic valve developed by Clippard Instrument Laboratory, based in Cincinnati, is rather interesting. Its rated cycle life is a minimum of one-billion cycles.

The development process is almost a textbook case study in the basics of design engineering. Engineers faced a number of hurdles, like an extremely limited envelope, high flow capacity, minimizing heat generation and material wear, and so on. They turned to software tools, some they had to develop themselves, to model electrical behavior, magnetic field strength, mechanical stresses and the like.

Testing was a challenge in that the test rig had to outlast the valve. And even though they ran the prototype valves at 32 cycles per second, it took a year to reach a billion cycles.

Finally there were the manufacturing issues, as any little stress riser or flaw can make things quickly go wrong. Yet they had to be mass produced quickly and efficiently.

It’s a great story. Read more about it in Machine Design, “Compact Valves Combine High Flow, Extreme Reliability,” and in our sister publication, Hydraulics & Pneumatics, “Building a Billion-cycle Valve.”

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What's Stress and Strain?

Ken has worked as a design engineer for a major fluid-power and motion-control manufacturer

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