Pneumatic or electric cylinders?

Pneumatic input to robot handle in intelligence factory

Pneumatic actuators are very common in industrial automation. Although pneumatic systems are often a fine solution, there are more sustainable alternatives, especially regarding economy and energy saving. They also have clear advantages regarding efficiency, safety, and production quality.

Economy and energy saving

In general, compressed air systems have poor efficiency. Compressors often require large amounts of energy and can be a sizable expense for many companies. Much of the compressed air disappears via leaks, and long lines create pressure drops. Commonly, you lose up to 50% of the added amount through leakage. From an economic and energy-saving perspective, it may be worth using electric actuators instead, as they have an efficiency of 80% compared to pneumatic actuators, which are around 10%. When purchasing, a pneumatic solution can feel attractive because it is generally cheaper than the equivalent solution with an electric cylinder. However, with its high efficiency and low operating cost, the electric cylinder has a significantly shorter payback period. With slightly longer strokes and larger dimensions, the electric solution becomes profitable in less than a year – the cost of the air then exceeds the higher investment cost of an electric solution.

Safe production for validated processes

Electric cylinders can be slightly more complex to install compared to pneumatic cylinders. Once the system is in place, you get safe and reliable production with accurate cycles and repeatability. The electronic cylinders are programmable, and several positions can be entered in the same cycle. With pneumatic tools, you are often limited to the end positions. In addition, it is difficult to control pneumatic systems, and you cannot get the same accuracy. Compressed air fluctuates and is greatly influenced by surrounding factors. For productions that require validated processes, electric actuators are preferred as they offer full steerability and control. Therefore, consistent quality is guaranteed. As all settings are programmed, it is impossible to manipulate or accidentally change the conditions in the production flow. With STO functions (Safe Torque Off), which are usually found in the electrical system, you also create a safer and more secure workplace for operators and maintenance personnel.

Clean and safe working environment

A compressed air system can require a lot of maintenance and service. Leaks should be checked regularly, and filters must be changed continuously to ensure clean return air. This is important for the personnel, but also for the production itself. Industries such as medical technology have a clean application environment of highly great importance. In these cases, an electrically driven cylinder may be a better-suited solution since a closed system can be ensured. Another advantage is that the electric cylinder is usually much quieter and better for the production staff, as the sound of whistling compressed air is a well-known contributor to noise in the industry.


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