Electric Versus Pneumatic Actuators: The Right One for You

Choosing between pneumatic or electric actuators is not always easy to decide. However, the two technologies are so different that one can seldom be a direct replacement for the other. While many variations exist to meet the demands of the air compressor market, there are a few key points that help you decide between electric versus pneumatic actuators. Furthermore, this decision is made easier by evaluating performance, component and system costs, and productivity gains.

Whether to choose electric or pneumatic actuators will largely depend upon what applications are required for your particular system. Since each technology is very different, both have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. In best-case scenarios, both are utilized capturing the major advantages of each.

Pneumatic Components

Pneumatic actuators provide high force and speed at a low unit cost in a small footprint. Even more, force and speed are easily adjustable and are independent of each other. The typical pneumatic application employs over-sized cylinders as a safety factor. This is common because pneumatic cylinders are inexpensive and stepping up to the next larger diameter is feasible and practical.

Key Advantages

  • Low cost
  • High force and speed
  • Simplicity of operation
  • Sophisticated transfer mechanisms not required
  • Tolerance to overloads, up to a full stop
  • High reliability of work
  • Explosion and fire safety
  • Ease of assembly
  • Force and speed easily adjustable


  •  Difficult to attain mid-stroke positioning
  • Difficult to maintain uniform and constant speed
  • Difficulties in performance at slow speed
  •  Requires clean, dry air for maximum performance and life expectancy
  • High maintenance and operating costs when considering the complete air system required

Electric Components

Electric actuators provide precise control and positioning, help adapt machines to flexible processes, and have low operating costs. Furthermore, they are most economical when deployed on a moderate scale. Especially in processes where their performance advantages can be a benefit and when the electronics are separate from the actuator to segment and minimize replacement costs.

Key Advantages

  • Precise control
  • Multiple positioning, able to stop at any point of the stroke
  • Easy to set acceleration and deceleration
  • No external sensors
  • Low operating costs
  • Help adapt machines to flexible processes
  • Superior performance at high speeds
  • Minimal maintenance


  • Higher cost
  • Non-explosion proof
  • Sensitive to vibration
  • More complex technology
  • High speeds, less thrust
  • High thrust, less speed

The goal of any industry’s air compressor system is to increase process efficiency while minimizing costs. This can only be attained by ensuring that the appropriate equipment is integrated relative to system demands. Pneumatic actuators have advantages in cost, size, thrust. On the other hand, electric actuators are best when speed, accuracy, flexibility, and control are required. As a result, an assessment of your own needs and equipment can help you find the right balance while increasing performance and reliability. Email or call us today for more information on how each of these technologies can work to bring tangible results to your bottom line.