Electric Actuator vs Pneumatic Actuator: Know the Difference

Electric vs Pneumatic Actuators

Cair Euro Automation offers the best quality Pneumatic and Electric Actuators. We are one of the leading Electric Actuator Manufacturers in India. Many times, people often need clarification about what to choose between the two, both types of actuators play vital roles in industrial applications because of their moving functionality and controlling mechanisms.

It is essential to clear all the doubts and queries by learning all the information about them. An Electric Actuator uses Electric Energy to produce mechanical energy. A Pneumatic Actuator is an air-operated device to converts air pressure into mechanical force for valve operation. 

As the technology mechanisms of these actuators are so different, learning Pneumatic Actuators vs Electric Actuators for a specific process system becomes confusing. Electric actuators are known for their high levels of precision, whereas pneumatic actuators are more affordable and easier to maintain. As each actuator’s technology has its pros and cons, it is crucial to read this article explaining all the necessary information about what to buy as the best actuator for a particular application. 

These two actuators are the most common types of actuators found in industrial applications. In this article, we will explore the key differences between the two so that you can make the right decision for your application. Here’s what you need to know.

Key Differences Between Electric Actuator and Pneumatic Actuator

The primary distinction between Electric and Pneumatic Actuators is where they draw their power from. Electric Actuators run on electricity, while Pneumatic Actuators use air pressure for their operation. So first and foremost, it’s important to consider the power source, availability, and preferences when deciding. 

Electric actuators typically require at least a 24 DC power source, while Pneumatic actuators depend on air pressure from a compressor.

Besides power sources, several other key differences are worth nothing between electric and pneumatic actuators. Here are a few factors to consider when deciding between pneumatic or electric actuators.

Speed

Electric actuators use a program controller for controlling speed during motion, whereas pneumatic actuators operate manually and maintain a constant speed. 

When compared to electric actuators, pneumatic actuators often provide higher speeds and lower forces; however, factors such as screw pitch and piston number might impact the comparative force generated by multiplying piston area by air pressure, whereas electric actuators generate linear force from motor torque. 

Electric actuators, which may utilize ball screws or rack and pinion systems, can sustain force and speed better without closed-loop feedback and can increase forces while sacrificing speed.

Cost

Pneumatic actuators are generally inexpensive but have high maintenance and repair costs, and require a compressed air system to power them. Electric actuators are more affordable to power, with higher initial costs but potentially long-term savings.

They also operate at 80% efficiency, which affects power costs in the long run. Pneumatic actuators have a lower efficiency than electric actuators, which operate at 10–25%.

However, when considering the long-term total cost of ownership, electric actuators are more cost-effective due to the less efficient nature of air and fluid power. Therefore, pneumatic actuators are the better choice for initial costs. 

Temperature Range

Pneumatic Actuators can operate in a wide temperature range, from -40 to 175º F, with special bearings and seals. Electric actuators can operate at -40 to 150º F, but overheating is a concern. Proper sealing is crucial to prevent moisture exposure. Pneumatic actuators can handle a wider ambient temperature range (-20 to 350ºF) than electric actuators (40 to 150ºF), but high temperatures can cause air seals to fail, sluggish operation, and affect the bearing grease life of an electric actuator.

Accuracy

Pneumatic actuators provide high force at fast speeds but lack accuracy compared to electric actuators. They should be used for 2 position applications due to compressible air. Electric linear actuators are highly regarded for precision in control and positioning, allowing machine adaptability to flexible processes and lower operation costs due to electronics separation. Positional accuracy can be as low as 0001 inches.

Safety

Electrical actuators can be safer and predictable in an emergency stop application since they don’t depend on trapped air to hold the cylinder in place. The load can be held more reliably also since there is no air leakage between the cylinder and the valve. Electrical actuators will automatically shut off when experiencing an electrical short or when overheating.

Maintenance

Pneumatic actuators require high maintenance due to the constant supply of compressed air from a reservoir tank and other components like the compressor, valves, fittings, muffler, lubricator, filter-regulator-lubricator, solenoid, and air tubing. Electric actuators require minimal maintenance due to fewer components that can wear out due to minimized friction from bearings and linear guides. An occasional greasing may be necessary. Electric actuators are considered non-maintenance items as the cost of repairing them often exceeds the cost of buying a new one. Preventing air leaks is crucial for pneumatic actuators, as seals wear and affect accuracy and repeatability. Pneumatic actuators depend on tight rods and piston seals to prevent air leakage.

Ideal Applications

The design differences between pneumatic actuators and electric actuators lead to differences in their characteristics. As a result, the coarse characteristics of pneumatic actuators make them ideal for basic, end-to-end positioning applications while the precision of electric actuators makes them ideal for multi-point positioning applications with advanced motion profiles or multi-axis synchronization. 

Pneumatic actuators can work in more hazardous environments than electric actuators. however, high temperatures can decrease service life for both types of actuators. 

If advanced operation, such as closed-loop feedback or data collection, is necessary, electric actuators present an integrated option that should be easier to use for years to come.

When to Choose an Electric Actuator

Consider the benefits of Electric actuators, and it’s pretty simple to determine whether they’d be a suitable fit for your application. Here are some situations why choosing one could make sense: 

  • If precise movement and advanced integration are required.
  • If it makes more sense to run actuators with electricity rather than creating a complex air compression system. 
  • If there is no significant risk of intrusion of moisture damaging the actuators. 
  • Though we didn’t mention it in the previous section, electric actuators are a bit quiet as compared to pneumatic actuators, which may be a factor in the decision process.
  • Electric actuators have a long service life due to their protective components and lubrication, which reduces friction, noise, and vibration, preventing premature wear and ensuring lower operating temperatures. 
  • The electric actuator is customizable to meet specific application needs, allowing for precise control over parameters like speed, stroke, and attachment type.

Electric actuator safety options: 

  1. Thermistor (PTC): switches off the motor at a specific temperature to prevent overloads. 
  2. Safety Nut: supports the load in case of the spindle nut breakage or failure. 
  3. Push-only function: prevents foreign elements from damage during retracting. 
  4. Mechanical quick-release system: allows quick disengagement and retracting in emergencies. 
  5. Overload clutch: disengages actuator when a preset load is reached.

If you think Electric Actuator is suitable for your application, Explore more about Electric Actuator Types here.

When to Choose Pneumatic Actuators

Similar to when choosing an electric actuator, search for applications that benefit from pneumatic actuators. Consider the following while deploying pneumatic actuators:

  • In small-scale applications where performance may be improved while keeping running costs low.
  • If you want great force and quick speeds
  • If you want actuators that can function across a wide temperature range. 
  • Speed of actuation is a crucial consideration in specific applications such as flood control. Like with precision, both electric and pneumatic actuators can be fast. 
  • In applications where a failure in the actuator can have severe consequences, the actuator needs to have a fail-safe mechanism. A fail-safe is easier and cheaper to install in pneumatic actuators. 
  • The design of pneumatic valve actuators is more straightforward than that of their electric counterparts, and so these actuators cost less than their electric counterparts.

Contact Us Today

Hopefully, this blog helps everyone understand the points of difference between Pneumatic Actuators vs Electric Actuators so that you can choose a suitable one according to a specific application. This choice is based on simplicity, precision, efficiency, and maintenance. 

Pneumatic actuators are smaller, easy to set up, and suitable for simple positioning, while electric actuators offer superior precision and repeatability for long-stroke, multi-point applications. Both types are used in industries like automotive, power generation, chemical processing, food and beverages processing, wastewater treatment, and marine, depending on simplicity, efficiency, and care. 
For more information on Pneumatic Actuators vs Electric Actuators and to get a better sense of which type would perform best for your application in your industrial environment, contact Cair Euro Automation. And we are always here to help you with selecting the best actuators for your specific needs. We are India’s leading Valve Manufacturer, offering high-quality Ball Valves, Butterfly Valves, Gate Valves, Globe Valves, and many more. Contact us today!

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