Pneumatic cylinders

Pneumatic cylinders

Pneumatic cylinders are components that carry out a movement using compressed air, which is why they are also known as compressed air cylinders. Pneumatic drives are an especially cost-effective solution for a number of application areas – even in extremely tough ambient conditions – and stand out for being really simple to commission. Speeds of between 10 mm/s and 3 m/s can be achieved. Pneumatic cylinders are sturdy and flexible thanks to the compressibility of the air, which also makes them resistant to high external forces.

Using pneumatic cylinders

Pneumatic cylinders are used in numerous applications in automation technology/factory automation. Typical application areas for pneumatic drives are clamping, lifting, countersinking, pushing, pulling, feeding, turning, gripping, clamping and holding, joining, stopping, stamping, embossing and many others.

Pneumatic cylinders from Festo

The range of pneumatic cylinders drives at Festo includes piston rod and rodless cylinders (linear drive), rotary cylinders, tandem, multi-position and stopper cylinders, as well as clamping cylinders, drives with linear guides, and bellows and diaphragm cylinders. As part of the range, we offer many standards-based cylinders with standardised dimensions and mounting interfaces. Cylinders that comply with a specific standard have identical dimensions. There are standards for piston rod cylinders with round design (ISO 6432), compact design (ISO 21287) and for profile and tie rod cylinders (ISO 15552).

Piston rod cylinders

Festo piston rod cylinders are pneumatic drives for executing linear movements. The energy applied to the piston is transferred by a piston rod to the parts to be moved. Piston rod cylinders are available as round cylinders, profile cylinders, compact cylinders, short-stroke cylinders, flat cylinders, miniature cylinders, cartridge cylinders or stainless-steel cylinders.

Piston rod cylinder

Rodless cylinders

Rodless cylinders are pneumatic cylinders and – as the name suggests – do not have a piston rod. But even without a piston rod they execute linear movements, which is why they are also known as linear drives. Rodless cylinders are primarily used in applications with longer travel distances, e.g. as a basic drive in a multi-axis gantry or for feeding tasks.

Rodless cylinders

Rotary drives

Pneumatic semi-rotary drives/rotary drives from Festo enable rotary movements with a swivel angle of up to 270°. Both rotary vane drives and rack-and pinion drives typically achieve maximum precision while also offering excellent performance and great versatility. As a result, our pneumatic drives are used in factory automation across a wide range of industries.

Rotary actuators

Tandem cylinders, high-force cylinders and multi-position cylinders

Tandem cylinders are two identical profile-barrel cylinders connected in series to double the thrust force in both directions of movement. A high-force cylinder is a cylinder design that is characterised by pneumatic compact cylinders connected in series. Pneumatic multi-position drives are available in a version that has two separate cylinders and in a version that has two to five cylinders connected in series.

Tandem, high-force and multi-position cylinders

Guided cylinders

Festo guided cylinders – drives with guide rods and linear guides – are pneumatic drives and are one of the "workhorses" of industrial automation. They are used in a wide range of applications such as lifting, pressing, pulling, pushing, clamping, stopping, holding, cutting, separating and much more. Both types of guided cylinders combine the benefits of linear movement with those of guided motion and stand out thanks to their extremely high stability.

Guided cylinders

Stopper cylinders and feed separators

With its feed separators, Festo provides handling technology solutions worldwide. Feed separators simplify the process of feeding in workpieces and are used whenever a continuous flow of workpieces has to be separated and transferred separately to a downstream device. Stopper cylinders are pneumatic cylinders that are used to stop movements, either with or without cushioning, in machines or workpiece carriers on transport systems. Stopper cylinders with cushioning can stop loads of up to approx. 800 kg on transport systems.

Stopper cylinders and feed separators

Clamping cylinders

Clamping cylinders hold or clamp workpieces either directly with a pneumatically operated clamping element or through kinematics. The clamping element is swivelled out of the working area when it is inactive. They can realise very high holding forces with low energy input thanks to kinematics.

Clamping cylinders

Diaphragm actuators and bellows cylinders

Bellows and diaphragm actuators with their special characteristics are in a class of their own in the world of pneumatics. For example, they have no stick-slip effect. They can be used as drive or pneumatic spring elements in a wide range of applications.

Diaphragm actuators

Rotary indexing tables

Pneumatic rotary indexing tables can be used to carry out continuous rotary movements. Rotary indexing tables are used, for example, in assembly applications. A variable direction of rotation and freely selectable indexing enable a wide range of applications.

Rotary indexing tables

Shock absorbers

Shock absorbers absorb the energy of a moving drive. The movement of the drive piston is brought to a standstill by rubber elements and/or hydraulically. The relatively gentle stopping before the end position prevents a strong impact as well as a spring-back; it also protects the drive and the machine parts from wear or irreparable damage.

Hydraulic dampers

Cylinder mounting parts and accessories

The attachments and accessories for pneumatic cylinders offered by Festo include mounting elements for drives and sensors, piston rod attachments, linear guides, accessories for direct valve mounting, clamping elements, freewheel units, accessories for cushioning elements and drive-specific accessories.

Cylinder mounting parts and accessories

How do pneumatic cylinders work?

In a pneumatic cylinder, the compressed air is used to exert force on a cylinder piston in order move it in a specific direction. The movement of the piston is transferred to the parts to be moved by a piston rod or a frictional connection. A pneumatic cylinder is a drive operated with compressed air usually up to a maximum of 12 bar in order to generate linear or rotary motion. A distinction should be made between single-acting and double-acting pneumatic cylinders (work is performed only in one direction or in both directions).

What is a single-acting pneumatic cylinder?

Pneumatic cylinders, also called air cylinders, pneumatic actuators, or pneumatic drives, are relatively simple mechanical devices that use the energy of compressed air and turn it into linear motion. Lightweight and low maintenance, pneumatic cylinders generally operate at lower speeds and less force than their hydraulic or electric counterparts, but are a clean and cost-effective option for reliable linear motion in many industrial environments. The most common design consists of a cylinder or tube that is sealed on both ends, with a cap at one end and head at the other end. The pneumatic cylinder contains a piston, which is attached to a rod. The rod moves in and out of one end of the tube, actuated by compressed air. Two main styles exist: single-acting and double-acting.

Where are single-acting pneumatic cylinders used?

Single-acting pneumatic cylinders are a great choice for applications with space constraints, as these tend to be smaller pneumatic cylinders than other designs due to their integrated springs that leave less room for compressed air. Analytical equipment, diagnostic instrumentation, bottling machinery, and commercial laundry and kitchen equipment are just a few examples of where these single-acting pneumatic cylinders are specified. They are typically used in applications where work is performed in one direction. These include tasks such as positioning, marking, clamping, and light assembly.

What is a double-acting pneumatic cylinder?

A double-acting pneumatic cylinder is a cylinder in which the working fluid acts alternately on both sides of the piston. In order to connect the piston in a double-acting pneumatic cylinder to an external mechanism, such as a crank shaft, a hole must be provided in one end of the cylinder for the piston rod, and this is fitted with a gland or "stuffing box" to prevent escape of the working fluid. Double-acting pneumatic cylinders are common in steam engines but unusual in other engine types. Many hydraulic and pneumatic cylinders use them where it is needed to produce a force in both directions. A double-acting hydraulic cylinder has a port at each end, supplied with hydraulic fluid for both the retraction and extension of the piston. A double-acting pneumatic cylinder is used where an external force is not available to retract the piston or it can be used where high force is required in both directions of travel.

Difference between double-acting and single-acting air cylinders

If you are looking for simple, easy-to-use and cheap linear drives, pneumatic cylinder is often the solution. They are sometimes also called air cylinders.

The term single-acting pneumatic cylinder refers to the compressed air that exerts a force on only one side of the piston. The compressed air pushes against one side of the piston which is set in motion because of the applied force. The stroke length of single-acting cylinders with integrated spring return is limited by the installed length of the spring. That is why single-acting cylinders are normally made with a maximum stroke length of 50 mm.

Double-acting air cylinders are used when a force has to be applied in both directions. Double-acting cylinders are used when larger stroke lengths are required. A force is generated both during the advancing as well as the retracting stroke of the piston. It is proportional to the compressed air supply pressure and the operational piston surface of the pneumatic cylinder.

In order to detect the piston position, sensors are used on the pneumatic cylinders. These are also called position indicators or cylinder sensors. These proximity sensors, which are often magnetic, detect the magnetic field of the piston and activate the switching output.

In addition to linear pneumatic cylinders, there are rotary cylinders for swivel applications. Most rotary cylinders are used for rotations of 90 to 270 degrees. Such as turning products around.

Ordering pneumatic cylinders

Ordering pneumatic cylinders starts with selecting and configuring the right type. The right type of double-acting or single-acting cylinder can be determined quickly and easily with digital engineering tools.

Web configurators for pneumatic cylinders help when having to choose the right options for the application in question or the industry requirements. Once your shopping cart is full, you can start ordering. Festo pneumatic cylinders and accessories as well as sensors are available worldwide.

FAQs – frequently asked questions clearly explained

How do pneumatic cylinders work?

In a pneumatic cylinder, the compressed air is used to exert force on a cylinder piston in order move it in a specific direction. The movement of the piston is transferred to the parts to be moved by a piston rod or a frictional connection. A pneumatic cylinder is a drive operated with compressed air usually up to a maximum of 12 bar in order to generate linear or rotary motion. A distinction should be made between single-acting and double-acting cylinders (work is performed only in one direction or in both directions).

What are single-acting pneumatic cylinders?

A single-acting pneumatic cylinder only has one compressed air connection. The incoming compressed air moves the piston in one direction, and the cylinder force is built up in this direction. If the piston needs to return to its initial position, the air is simply expelled from the cylinder. The mechanical spring pushes the piston back to its initial position. This part has a ventilation/exhaust hole so that no excess or low pressure is generated through the piston movement in the second cylinder chamber.


  • Defined position in the event of a power failure
  • Reduced air consumption
  • Easy actuation via 3/2-way valve


  • The cylinder design is longer
  • Spring-dependent stroke length limits the maximum stroke length
  • Force is only built up in one direction
  • Force is reduced by the spring force
  • No constant force (stroke-dependent)

What are double-acting pneumatic cylinders?

The double-acting cylinder requires compressed air for every direction of movement. On this type of cylinder, the force in both the advancing and retracting direction is built up using compressed air. The simplest way of actuating a double-acting cylinder is by using a 5/2-way valve.


  • Force builds up in both directions of movement
  • Constant force (dependent on stroke)
  • Strokes of several metres are possible


  • Every movement uses compressed air
  • No defined position in the event of compressed air failure