An air winch is a power winch that is powered by compressed air instead of electricity. Using an air line, air pressure is fed from an air compressor to the drive motor of the air winch. Once activated, the drive mechanism or drive motor of the air winch powers the cable drum, effectively raising or lowering the attached load. The typical air-powered winch creates lifting force through a series of gear reductions in the transmission case of the winch. This allows the air to power the drive mechanism at a high rate of speed while the final drive gear ratio creates a powerful — albeit, slow-moving — lifting and lowering cable speed.
Commonly found in manufacturing facilities, the air winch is a useful component in heavy assembly-type manufacturing plants. Used to raise and move large parts and assemblies from work station to work station as the assembly process warrants, an air winch provides the required lifting power without using excess electricity. The air power used in the operation of the winch is typically already compressed and provided by an air-compressor system that is already in use for other tasks. One drawback to the use of an air-powered winch over a similarly-sized electric winch is the added noise that the air-powered device emits throughout the workplace when activated.
Unlike an electric winch, the air-powered version produces a very high-pitched, whistle-like noise as the air passes through the drive mechanism of the winch motor. This can also produce condensation, plentiful in most compressed-air systems, that can cause water to drip onto objects under the winch. Placing large water filters and traps in the air line leading to the air winch will aid in the control of this dripping condition. Oil foggers are also required in the airline to prevent rust and corrosion from forming inside of the winch drive motor.
An air winch can be used for smaller lifting tasks as well as heavier duties and the winches are available in several sizes, from the largest overhead trolley winch systems to the small, workstation-sized units used by a single employee to move smaller components along an assembly line. While not as convenient as the electric winch in smaller home shop applications, the typical air winch is easily adapted into the larger manufacturing infrastructure. By taking advantage of the compressed air that is already in use throughout the plant, the air winch can often cost no more to use than a manual winch in many applications.