Pneumatic Actuators vs Hydraulic Actuators

Pneumatic input to robot handle grip handle

If you have any sort of a mechanized process involved in your operations, then there’s a good chance that actuators are the components that are helping said processes tick. Simply put, actuators convert energy into motion, helping machinery work the way it’s intended to work. Think of mechanical acts such as lifting, clamping and ejecting — it’s actuators that are playing a key role in converting the energy into motion to make this happen.

Just about every industry uses actuators to some extent. Noting this, it’s no surprise that there are various different types of actuators — with some working better in certain applications and industries than others. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at two of the more popular types of actuators, pneumatic and hydraulic, so that you can make the best decision on what type would be best integrated into your application. Here’s a closer look at how pneumatic and hydraulic actuators stack up against each other:

Pneumatic vs. Hydraulic Actuators: What’s the Difference?

Before we get into some of the intended end uses for pneumatic and hydraulic actuators, it’s worth taking a moment to discuss the key differences between these two model types. Here’s a look:

Hydraulic Actuators 101

Hydraulic actuators are among the most popular types of actuators used today. They work on fluid transfer via a hydraulic pump, which creates the pressure required to move the actuator. The biggest benefit associated with hydraulic actuators is that they’re able to transfer a significant amount of energy per volume, making them ideal for use in construction equipment, heavy-duty machinery and transportation applications, among others.

Pneumatic Actuators 101

Due to the pressure pneumatic systems run at, pneumatic actuators are significantly less powerful than hydraulic actuators, but they do make sense in a variety of applications, including food production, window manufacturing, and vehicle production. They’re known for being safe, stable and reliable. They also have a very simple design, which helps limit maintenance.

Hydraulic Actuator Advantages and Disadvantages

Now that we covered some of the basics of how hydraulic actuators work and what industries and applications they’re best utilized in, it’s worth discussing some of the pros and cons associated with these types of components. Let’s start with the pros:

Advantages of Hydraulic Actuators

  • Power: As we noted above, hydraulic actuators are very powerful and efficient. They’re among the most powerful actuators available, which makes them an ideal component on heavy-duty applications.
  • Mobile: Hydraulic actuators also excel thanks to their portability. They’re easy to move and quite versatile, another reason why they’re among the most popular types of actuators in use today.

Disadvantages of Hydraulic Actuators

  • Cost: There’s a price that comes with enhanced power potential, and this upfront cost can represent a significant investment. However, while hydraulic actuators are more costly than other types of actuators, the return on investment is often worth it in the long-term.
  • Maintenance: As we noted above, hydraulic actuators work with a fluid. Because of this, the threat of leakage and other fluid-related problems are there. And because of the threat of a potential leak and the mess it can potentially create, hydraulic actuators often have to be cared for more diligently than other types of actuators.

Pneumatic Actuator Advantages and Disadvantages

Here’s a closer look at some of the key advantages and disadvantages of pneumatic actuators:

Advantages of Pneumatic Actuators

  • Fast and efficient: Pneumatic actuators work quickly, effectively and efficiently. This translates directly to a higher rate of productivity in the applications they operate in.
  • Cost-effective: Compared to hydraulic actuators, pneumatic actuators are much more budget-friendly. This translates to less of an upfront financial commitment and a quicker return on investment.
  • Simplicity: Pneumatic actuators rely on a variety of components to operate, but these components have the advantage of being quite simple in design. This translates to less required maintenance and problems.

Disadvantages of Pneumatic Actuators

  • Power: As we noted earlier in this piece, while pneumatic actuators excel in reliability and efficiency, they lack in power. That being said, pneumatic actuators are best utilized in light and medium-duty applications. Heavy-duty applications are best served by a hydraulic actuator.
  • Limited lifecycle: Though simple in their makeup and relatively maintenance-free, pneumatic actuators do tend to have a shorter lifespan than hydraulic actuators.
  • Environmental considerations: We noted that pneumatic actuators work via compressed air. However, it’s worth remembering that compressed air contains water. This water must be removed for long cylinder life. There are also temperature considerations to be mindful of, especially in freezing conditions.

Contact JHFoster Today

For more information on the differences, and pros and cons associated with hydraulic and pneumatic actuators, contact JHFoster today. Our experts are standing by to help answer any questions and help you determine what type of actuator would work best in any of your applications. Contact us today for more information.