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Proceedings of RIT 2013 Dynamic Systems Modeling Technical Conference RIT/DSMC 2013 May 6-8, 2013, Rochester, NY,


Timothy G. Southerton, Brian T. Grosso Kate Gleason College of Engineering Department of Mechanical Engineering Rochester Institute of Technology Rochester, New York, 14623 Email:,

ABSTRACT In this paper, a dynamic model of a pneumatic damper is developed and compared with data collected using a custom test stand. The damper is a linear plunger-cylinder assembly with an adjustable outlet orifice. Upon application of a uniform input force, the plunger compresses the gas in the cylinder, producing an outlet flow from the adjustable orifice. This produces a decaying periodic pulsation motion that is modeled using non-linear compressible flow equations and a mechanical model of the plunger. The parameters in the model are estimated to provide reasonable approximations for components unable to be easily measured in the test stand. This model is developed in Simulink and then compared to experimental test data gathered using a microcontroller and a linear potentiometer mounted on the test stand to characterize the observed results and verify the model developed. NOMENCLATURE M Mass of forcing mass x Displacement of forcing mass h Height of damper cylinder out Mass flow rate leaving orifice Gasket-cylinder coefficient of friction N Gasket-cylinder radial normal force g Standard acceleration due to gravity Patm Standard atmospheric pressure Pcyl Pressure inside cylinder Pcr Critical pressure ratio of air k Ratio of specific heats of air Cd Discharge coefficient of orifice A1 Area of plunger A2 Area of orifice R Universal gas constant for dry air

Tcyl Vcyl mcyl cyl

Air temperature inside cylinder Control volume Mass of air in the cylinder Density of air in cylinder

INTRODUCTION The consumer microcontroller market has recently seen a massive increase in available, affordable electronic components with a multitude of purposes. Among these devices is the Arduino Uno, which has revolutionized the world of introductory robotics by providing a fully capable microcontroller with an expandable architecture for around ~$20. This sort of technology provides students with the opportunity to accomplish objectives from small robot creation to data collection, even on a college budget. Door dampers are cheap and simple devices that are all around us in the world, providing a controlled closing mechanism for medium-weight doors. When purchased off the shelf, this device consists of a simple plunger that is forced through a greased outer cylinder. Opposite the plunger is an orifice that allows air to leave the device as the door is closing, with an adjustable screw to control the damping rate. Between the plunger and the top of the cylinder is a large spring that provides the closing force on the door. The interplay between this spring and the air damper is what controls the closing motion of the door. For our analysis, the strength of the spring proved unreasonable to incorporate into a test stand, so the cylinder was cut radially and this item was removed. With this modification, the remaining device is simply an adjustable pneumatic damper, for which we developed a model. This allows us to independently explore an interesting characteristic of screen door dampers: the periodic pulsation closing motion.

From a systems modeling perspective, the door damper pulse motion seems to be driven by the compressibility of the air in the damper, along with the flow of the air out of the adjustable orifice. An initial guess at the cause is that the closing force of the spring compresses the gas from atmospheric pressure to a higher value as the air is trying to leave the orifice in an unchoked regime. Because the air cannot leave fast enough, the pressure builds in the cylinder until the flow out of the orifice becomes choked, at which point the pressure in the cylinder will grow even faster until it actually rebounds the compressive force, bringing the system to a brief stop. While stopped, air continues to leave the orifice until unchoked flow resumes, at which point the mass again begins to move and the process repeats. We assume this produces the characteristic swinging motion of the mechanism. The focus of this paper is to develop an explanatory model for this relatively complex system response and to compare the results to data gathered using an Arduino Uno and a linear potentiometer mounted on a vertical drop test stand. This comparison will add validity to the modeling theory and explain a frequently observed but seldom explained motion. DATA COLLECTION A door damper was purchased from Home Depot for testing purposes. The spring inside the device was removed by cutting the cylinder near the top, reattaching the cap to the cylinder using permanent adhesive. The damper was then mounted inside of a PVC tube for support. A smaller diameter tube was specifically chosen and connected to the plunger rod in such a way as to keep the amount of transverse motion to a minimum. This tube served as the mounting point for the mass, which was a piece of steel billet (~2.9 kg) attached using Velcro straps. A hole the same diameter as the main PVC tube was cut in the particle board base, over which the tube was mounted. This base is raised off the floor using rubber feet to allow for air flow away from the stand. The linear potentiometer is mounted to the main PVC tube using hose clamps, and the plunger is bolted to the movable PVC tube. Stops were added to protect the device. The test stand constructed can be seen in Fig. 1.

Data collection was done by supplying the linear potentiometer with 5V DC and measuring the output signal voltage using the analog to digital converter chip on an Arduino Uno. This outputs a value between 0 and 1023 corresponding to the displacement of the mass. Through coding, this value is passed through Serial to the PLX-DAQ program, which is a Microsoft Office Excel add-on that prints serial data to columns. Equation (8) was used to convert the serial output to displacement, which was established through measuring the full displacement and corresponding output values. (1) In this way, data was taken for three different relative damper adjustments (high, medium, and low damping), and data from multiple tests was graphed. MODEL DEVELOPMENT Due to the construction of our test stand, we make the assumption that the motion of the mass is linear and vertical. Referring to Fig. 2, a simple mechanical model can be derived for the constant mass plunger (here treated as a point mass which includes the plunger and attached mass) as seen in Eq. (1), with the geometric volume relation seen in Eq. (2). The included friction of the lubed gasket on the internal cylinder surface is assumed to be mostly kinetic, but we assume static values occur when the mass stop periodically and moves at low velocities: has piecewise constant values around a transition velocity in our model.

FIGURE 2. FREE BODY DIAGRAM (1) (2) From Fig. 3 it can be assumed that the mass flow model for the changing control volume of air in the cylinder is more complicated, with mass flow rate out of the orifice alternating between unchoked (Eq. (3) and choked (Eq. (4)) throughout the system's motion. This critical pressure transition is found to be 0.528 using Eq. (5), assuming a specific heat ratio of 1.4 for air. Here we assume no air flow into the CV and that the orifice is essentially sharp with a discharge coefficient of ~0.6. A2 is difficult to measure on our test device and an accurate Cd value requires considerable modeling, so here we treat them as the lumped term CdA2. Since the discharge air is exiting into a large plenum, we assume the air at the throat of the orifice is P atm [1]. FIGURE 1. DAMPER TEST STAND

1.5E-4 kg of air is used in the simulations as it produces a much better fit with the experimental data. It is assumed that there is a higher volume of air in the cylinder as A1 is slightly larger at the very bottom of the cylinder (which our tests do not reach). This slightly larger area at the bottom of the damper serves the function of lowering the friction from the gasket around the plunger (as it lowers the normal force since it deforms the gasket less). This lower resistance allows the door to close more quickly for the last few degrees so that it has enough inertia to overcome the resistance of whatever locking mechanism may be on the door. Until the plunger reaches this change in A1, however, this additional mass should have the same spring-effect on the falling mass. RESULTS COMPARISON Following the construction of the test stand, a visual test was conducted in which we first observed the damped oscillatory motion characteristic of the system. This motion is based on the theoretical change in flow regime out of the adjustable orifice that leads to the model previously developed. Using this general motion as a comparison point, the model was implemented in MATLAB's Simulink environment to simulate the motion of the system. The results were initially generated as an idealized system without a friction force to establish the general shape of the system response observed. This resulted in a damped oscillatory motion, as expected, but with high rebound amplitudes that were not realized with the test stand. A demonstration of the difference between a frictionless simulation and one with friction can be seen in Fig. 4. (3)
0.16 0.14 0.12 0.10 0.08 0.06 2 0.04 0.02 0.00 0.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 5 4 3


Friction Model Comparison


Drop Distance (m)

(4) (5) These two system models can be directly related using the ideal gas law, assuming temperature remains relatively constant everywhere at ~ 288K and using the universal gas constant ~ 287 J/(kg-K). This can be seen in Eq. (6). The density term can be calculated by using the simple relation of mass and volume and integrating the mass flow rates out of the cylinder established previously, as seen in Eq. (7). (6) (7) With this model, the initial conditions assumed are that P cyl is Patm when the mass is initially raised, and that the highest position is always the starting point for the motion with x0 = 0 m and 0 = 0 m/s. The initial mass of air in the cylinder is equal to the volume of the fully extended cylinder multiplied by the initial density of the air. Atmospheric pressure is assumed to be Patm ~ 99 kPa (there was a cold front passing during testing) [2]. The initial volume of air in the cylinder is calculated to be 1.15E-4 m3. Thus the ideal gas law yields a mass of about 1.38E-4 kg of air in the cylinder. However an initial mass of

No Friction Friction

1 0

Time (s) FIGURE 4. COMPARISON OF INITIAL SYSTEM MODELS There is a rebound effect noticed for the system response for the initial drop oscillation in testing. This is due to the fact that the cylinder starts at atmospheric pressure when the mass is in the raised position. As the mass drops, it gains inertia and compresses the air to above that expected by a static evaluation. When the mass comes to a stop, this pressure is higher than the remaining weight force, causing the mass to rebound slightly. This usually happens for the only first drop, so rebound is not realized on following oscillations. We assume that no flow enters the cylinder on rebound. Because this idealized motion did not accurately reflect the observed phenomena, we implemented a friction force to limit the rebound effect caused by the spring-like nature of the compressed air in the cylinder. This friction model was implemented using the notation for Coulomb friction ( N), with the normal force approximated and held constant while

Drop Distance (in)

changes were made to the value. Due to time and hardware constraints, no measurements could be made of either of these values. Effectively, upon review of what might be happening in the system, we assume there to be a viscous friction caused by the rubber gasket / greased cylinder wall interaction, but more detailed modeling of this phenomena would require tribology knowledge outside the scope of this class. Additionally, there is static and kinetic friction acting between the gasket and wall, which should affect this system more notably when the mass comes to a stop periodically. The conclusion established is that a dynamic combination of viscous and Coulomb friction effects slows the motion of the falling mass. The friction model developed simply alternates the friction force between a high and low value depending on the speed of the falling mass. At high velocities (above a threshold set at 0.3 m/s based on system output), a higher friction force was implemented to limit the rebound motion of the first oscillatory cycle, whereas at velocities below the threshold a very small friction was implemented to slightly limit the rebound of smaller oscillations. This simple model works reasonably well to account for the observed motion and can be seen in Fig. 5.

dimensions. The term CdA2 was then modified to reflect the different system responses, with drop time being dominant. Case 1 - Low Damping For the low damping scenario, data was taken for three separate drop tests and graphed, which produced results with reasonable agreement. The CdA2 model parameter was then adjusted to 2.82E-7 m2 , which gave a drop time within 0.03 sec of the 1.41 sec measured data. This simulation was plotted on top of the measured data was a line, as can be seen in Fig. 6.

Low Damping Comparison

0.16 6 0.14 5 0.12 4 3 2 0.04 0.02 0.00

0.08 0.06

Approximated Friction Model

25 20 15 10 5 0 0 0.05 0.1 0.15 0.2 0.25 0.3 0.35 0.4

Drop 1 Drop 2 Drop 3 Simulation

0.25 0.50 0.75 1.00 1.25

1 0



Friction (N)

Time (s) FIGURE 6. DATA / MODEL COMPARISON CASE 1 Based on the results seen in Fig. 6, the model fits the general trend of the data reasonably well. with slight differences in amplitude and frequency. The model also predicts a slightly longer initial drop time and slightly greater displacements at the smaller oscillations than measured. Case 2 - Mid Damping In the mid damping scenario, the drop times measured were around 2.18 sec, with repeated tests showing oscillatory motion at approximately the same frequency as the low damping data. The corresponding CdA2 term established was 1.71E-7 m2, which resulted in the simulation data seen in Fig. 7 along with the data.

Velocity, || (m/s) FIGURE 5. FRICTION MODEL USED IN SIMULATION Once the general motion of the model was linked to the recorded data, we attempted to determine reasonable values for the different parameters used in the model. We first measured the falling mass that was added to the stand, and rounded up to 3 kg to approximate the additional components above the plunger. The drop height possible with the linear potentiometer mounted on the stand was measured at 0.143 m. The internal area of the cylinder was calculated at 6.4E-4 m2. Through multiple simulations, the friction function was modified until the values did not need to be changed between damping simulations to reasonably approximate the measured data. The final value of the higher friction was fixed at 20 N, while the low velocity friction was fixed at 1.25 N. In this way, the only value that needs to be changed to simulate the drop condition is the CdA2 term, as would be expected. To more fully characterize the system observed, multiple settings for the damping ratio were tested. Because these settings could not be directly measured, relative damping levels of low, middle, and high (Case 1, Case 2, and Case 3, respectively) were established through visual estimation by backing the adjustment screw out in 1/2 turn intervals. This significantly affected the total system response to the same input mass. For the model, the approximate size of the orifice was estimated at 1E-7 m2 through measurement of the screw

Mid Damping Comparison

0.16 6 0.14 5 0.12 4 3 2 1 0 2.25

0.08 0.06 0.04 0.02 0.00 0.00

Drop 1 Drop 2 Drop 3 Simulation

0.25 0.50 0.75 1.00 1.25 1.50 1.75 2.00


Drop Distance (in)

Drop Distance (m)


Drop Distance (in)

Drop Distance (m)


Drop Distance (m)

These results suggest that the model approximates the measured response quite well, with the same areas of deviation noted in the low damping case. As would be expected, with lower speeds the system response becomes more sensitive to small deviations in the drop conditions (components rubbing together or transverse motions), so slight deviations are even notable among measured data sets. Case 3 -High Damping Finally, the stand was tested at a high damping adjustment, which resulted in drop times around 5.9 sec reasonably repeatedly over the course of three tests. The corresponding CdA2 found through modeling was 6E-8 m2. The comparison of these results can be seen in Fig. 8.

0.16 0.14 0.12 0.10 0.08 0.06 0.04 0.02 0.00 0.00

Inertial Overshoot Demonstration

Simulation No Overshoot
0.25 0.50 0.75 1.00 1.25 1.50

High Damping Comparison

0.16 6 0.14 5 4 3 2 1 0 0.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0 6.0

Time (s) FIGURE 9. INERTIAL OVERSHOOT EXAMPLE RESULTS DISCUSSION Though the model developed approximates the data reasonably well, noticeable deviation is realized in the higher damping cases. This could be due to a number of possible causes, but we assume the main cause to be the friction model developed. At higher velocities, the model works very well for predicting the motion. However, our current model is limited by the sensitivity of our friction values, which either constrained the motion to a nearly diagonal line or allowed for significant rebound. This suggests that using constant values for the different frictions is not ideal, as the values should be predominantly velocity dependent. However, when briefly trying to develop a velocity dependent model, the smaller oscillations were modeled better (through still with rebound), while the high velocity oscillations significantly deviated from the measured data. This would suggest an additional coulomb friction component would be needed for the high velocity components, though this would also limit the small amplitude oscillations. Based on these results, it appears clear that a more detailed friction model that possibly incorporates the lubricating fluid viscosity would be needed to more accurately model the data over a range of damping adjustments. This would be a possible area for future testing and modeling outside of the project. An interesting area to consider in our model was the frequency of the oscillations. As can be seen in Fig. 6, it appears that the model predicts an oscillatory response frequency that closely approximates that seen in the data. This trend still applies for the mid damping case of Fig. 7, but notable deviation can be seen between the model and the high damping data of Fig. 8. Through changing a significant number of parameters in the modeling, it appears that the frequency of the predicted motion is not very sensitive to small changes in the parameters. The predicted response has a slightly higher frequency than the experimental, which leads us to assume that this deviation may be caused by the fact that the model is idealized and that there are compounded errors in our parameter measurements and estimations. Again, for the scope of this project investigating this effect is not feasible, so such modeling would be helpful for future development. Notable in the data in Fig. 6-8 are the flat lines following each peak in the oscillatory motion, which were not realized in Drop Distance (in)


Drop Distance (m)

0.10 0.08 0.06 0.04 0.02 0.00

Drop 1 Drop 2 Drop 3 Simulation

Time (s) FIGURE 8. DATA MODEL COMPARISON CASE 3 It is clearly notable in this data set that the model developed only generally approximates the data recorded at low amplitude oscillations. The data also shows noticeable deviation between tests, but this is expected for the significantly slower speed system response. Following feedback provided during our presentation, the points at which the flow alternates between choked and unchoked flow in our simulations was investigated. The results surprisingly showed that the flow in our tests never actually becomes choked. Upon further investigation, it seems that the linear portions of the graph that the oscillations seem to fluctuate around are actually the linear trends corresponding to a constant downward force of Mg, less the friction term. We assume that the oscillatory motion seen is actually caused by inertial overshoot of the falling mass. A demonstration of the simulation results of our model and one without inertial overshoot for the low damping case can be seen in Fig. 9, which demonstrates this effect.

the simulations. The cause of these flat lines is not well defined, but we assume this to also be attributed to our inaccurate friction model. Though not addressed in our model, there is the interesting observable characteristic in our test stand that extending the damper to the raised position seems to show no signs of resistance relative to the screw adjustment of the mechanism. We assume that there may be some internal mechanism that functions as a check valve for this flow, but we have not been able to locate this component. It would seem that this mechanism would affect our results slightly on rebound, but it adds significant complication to the system that might be more feasible in future iterations. The fact that the flow never becomes choked in our investigated cases is problematic for proving the validity of the model completely, but our results still clearly show that the orifice flow model applies to this system. As evident in Fig. 9, we can see the oscillatory motion observed in our testing is caused by the inertial overshoot of the falling mass, which becomes damped as the damper moves through its full motion. The reason flow regime change does not take effect is due to the size of the mass used in the testing, which we calculated as needing to be around 6 kg to produced choked flow. This was a bit of an oversight on our part brought about by stand construction and lack of available weights, and would definitely be an area worth investigating in future testing. From a practical perspective, our orifice flow model here makes sense due to the fact that a swinging door should have more input than a 3 kg mass. So our model could still be used for larger masses, as it can account for choked flow even though the condition was never met during testing. A last trend noted in the data following feedback from our presentation is that the data lags behind the model as the mass is initially falling, as can be seen most notably in Fig. 6. We assume this parabolic vs. linear shape difference to be attributed to inaccuracies in our friction function. It is likely that our model predicts the mass to initially fall quicker than the experimental data because the simulation starts at zero velocity, and our low velocity friction is very low. The experimental data then overtakes the model, which indicates that our high value for friction is too high. Combined, these two observations communicate the need for a more accurate friction model. CONCLUSIONS Based on the results of our modeling, we can conclude that the theoretical model developed for a pneumatic damper describes the dynamic system response of this common device reasonably accurately. The collected data makes logical sense, as the point of the device is close the door in a slow manner so as to protect the door from connecting with the door frame with a short impulse, which we observed. The correlation of our model to the data confirms the basic principles of applying systems modeling analysis to a real world system. With knowledge of the CdA2 term in our test setup, or the relative damping adjustment imparted by the screw, the model should be able to reasonably predict the approximate fall time and displacement motion of the falling mass. More modeling and analysis could be done in the area of refining the friction model used, along with some of the flow characteristics of the orifice using computational fluid dynamics. Future testing could also be done with a larger mass to confirm if the regime change

model holds true. However, for the scope of this project the results are reasonable. Thus we conclude the overall project to be successful at collecting data, validating the pneumatic model developed, and characterizing the system analyzed. REFERENCES [1] Woods, R. L., and Lawrence, K. L., 1997 Modeling and Simulation of Dynamic Systems, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ, Chap. 5 [2] Briney, A., 2012, "Low and High Pressure: The Basics of Pressure and Their Impact on the World's Weather", from htm