Hydraulic to Electric Actuator: Discussing The Basics

As globalization fosters more competition, manufacturers are finding ways to stay ahead by transforming many of their core processes. This includes converting from hydraulic systems to electrical ones.

Both hydraulic cylinders and electric actuators provide many benefits for many linear motion applications. Hydraulics offer high force at affordable costs, while electric actuators boast the same capabilities with added flexibility, precision, and reliability.

In this article, we help you understand the nature of converting from a hydraulic system to an electric actuator, the key parameters involved, and its potential benefits.

Key Parameters to Consider

Several key parameters to consider when converting from a hydraulic system to an electric actuator. These include:


Hydraulic cylinders are designed to have high operating pressures. A 3-inch hydraulic cylinder running at 2,200 psi can provide around 15,000 pounds of force (lbf). Meanwhile, electric actuators that are powered by roller screws are capable of delivering 50,000 lbf.

Electric actuators tend to be more attractive because they can generate force instantly, while hydraulic systems need time to build up.

Motion Control

Electric actuators offer much more precise control than hydraulic cylinders. This is since electric motors can be quickly and easily controlled with feedback devices, such as encoders. Electric actuators also provide for infinite positioning, meaning that they can stop at any point along with their travel.

Hydraulic cylinders, on the other hand, rely on valves to control flow, which is not as precise, but they do work best in uncomplicated applications.

Temperature Tolerance

Electric actuators can operate in a much more comprehensive range of temperatures than hydraulic cylinders. This is because electric motors are more tolerant of extreme temperatures. On the other hand, Hydraulic fluids can break down at high temperatures, which can cause damage to the system.

Data Collection

Electric actuators can collect data, such as position, speed, and force. This data can be used to improve the efficiency of the system. Hydraulic cylinders, on the other hand, do not have this capability.

Environmental Risks

Electric actuators do not pose the same environmental risks as hydraulic cylinders. Hydraulic fluids can leak and contaminate the environment. On the other hand, electric actuators are powered by electricity, which is not harmful to the environment.

Life Cycle Costs

Electric actuators have a lower life cycle cost than hydraulic cylinders. This is because electric actuators do not require hydraulic fluids, which must be replaced periodically. Electric actuators also have a longer lifespan than hydraulic cylinders.

Converting from Hydraulic to Electric

There are many reasons to convert from a hydraulic system to an electric actuator. The benefits of electric actuators make them attractive for many applications such as machines with electric motors like automobiles, ventilations, and refrigerators.

The first step to converting from hydraulic to electric is to refrain from sizing for fluid power. Engineers need to keep in mind that most fluid-powered cylinders are often sized two or three times bigger than required.

Relying on fluid power for the size can cause the force output of an oversized hydraulic cylinder to appear larger than what the application specifies. That’s because as the cylinder gets larger, its force capability increases.

This creates two specific issues:

  • First, it causes the application’s force requirements to look higher than what an electric actuator can provide.
  • Second, electric actuators can have a higher purchase price than hydraulic cylinders and oversizing often leads to unaffordable costs.

Actual Force Requirements

Before looking into an electric actuator, engineers must be clear about the actual force requirements for the application. A series of tests should be conducted on the application to do this.

These tests will help identify the required force output by the actuator and are a critical step in choosing an electric actuator. The test should include a full range of motion at different speeds and under various loads.

1. Determine Peak Force

After conducting the series of tests, engineers will clearly understand the force required by the application and can determine the peak force.

The peak force is the maximum force required by the application. Determining this factor can be done by metering down the pressure in the hydraulic system until the cylinder can barely operate.

Using actual pressure in the equation “Force = Pressure x Area” is a good way of getting the actual force. However, this process will only be able to identify the peak force of the application instead of mapping the force over the full extend and retract cycle.

2. Installing a Load Cell

The next step is to install a load cell. A load cell is a type of sensor that measures force. It is often used in applications where force needs to be measured accurately, such as a weight scale.

In this case, the load cell will be used to measure the force output of the electric actuator. This will ensure that the force output of the electric actuator is accurate and can be used to map the force over the extend and retract cycle.

Load cells readings can be accessed, assessed, and recorded on a personal computer or a data collection system. There are many different types of load cells, so it is crucial to choose one suitable for the application.

Embrace the Benefits of Converting to Electric Actuators

Converting from hydraulic cylinders to electric actuators can be daunting, but it offers various benefits like increased accuracy, safety, and reliability.

They are known to offer programmable control of motion parameters, repeatability, and data collection/reporting. Electric actuators are also easier to maintain than hydraulic cylinders.

As long as you keep these important parameters and other factors, such as the ones mentioned in this article, in mind while converting from hydraulic cylinders to electric actuators, the process will be much smoother.

For reliable electric actuators, check out JHFOSTER. Our company can help equip your industrial facilities with high-quality electric actuators for various applications. Contact us today and our team is ready to answer any of your inquiries.