Pneumatic Actuator vs. Electric Actuator: Which One to Use?

Home Pneumatic Actuator vs. Electric Actuator: Which One to Use?
08/09/2022
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Pneumatic and electric actuators are offered by a China Valve manufacturer for many purposes. Since people often get confused while choosing between the two, it is vital to clear all the doubts by learning about them. While an electric actuator uses electrical energy to produce mechanical energy, a pneumatic actuator is an air-operated device to convert air pressure into mechanical force for valve operation.

Since the technologies of these actuators are so different, learning about pneumatic actuator vs electric actuator for a specific process system becomes confusing. While electric actuators are known for their high levels of precision, pneumatic actuators are more affordable and easier to maintain. As each technology has its pros and cons, buying the best actuator for a particular application is crucial.

But first, let’s understand each type.

What Is A Pneumatic Actuator?

Pneumatic Valves
Source: Deposit Photos

Pneumatic actuators rely on compressed air and gas pressure to produce motion to control the valve. They do not use a motor but electricity to pair with an integrated solenoid valve, commonly referred to as a pilot valve.

It is possible to achieve remote piloting using air supply ports. A solenoid or pilot valve receives an electric signal to energize its coil and allows the air to flow either in or out of the device, thus opening or closing the pneumatic actuated valve.

Today, two common types of pneumatic actuators are available in the market: a spring return and a double-acting one. Both employ a rack and pinion design to offer reliability and durability. Let’s discuss the advantages of using a pneumatic cylinder vs electric actuator.

Advantages Of Using A Pneumatic Actuator:

  • High durability and affordable prices
  • Quick cycle time
  • Resistant to overheating and moisture

What Is An Electric Actuator?

Electric Actuator
Source: Deposit Photos

An electric actuator is also called a rotatory or a motorized ball valve. It is powered by a motor or a gear train for an electric actuated valve automation. In situations where no air supply is available to power a pneumatic actuator, electric ones are used. When voltage is supplied to its motor, it images the gear train to produce the necessary torque to cycle a ball valve.

Electric actuators use electricity as the primary power source. It is further divided into the solenoid and motor-driven actuators. While in solenoid-driven actuators, the electric current passes through a coil to generate a magnetic field, moving a metal stem to adjust the disc position, a motor-driven actuator employs an AC or DC-powered servo motor to shift the valve to a desired position.

Advantages of Using an Electric Actuator:

  • Low operating cost and minimal noise.
  • Flexible motion control
  • Slower cycle type than its counterpart.
  • It doesn’t need compressed air to work.
  • It can produce linear and rotatory motion.

Differentiating Between Pneumatic Actuator vs Electric Actuator:

Actuator Controls
Source: Deposit Photos

Industrial ball valve actuators are mechanical devices used in many operations to open or close a valve, allowing and stopping a media through a system. Today, they are available in multiple variations to offer different advantages. Their unique advantages and disadvantages make them suitable for a particular application.

Since the two most common actuators used in industries are pneumatic and electric ones, it is essential to differentiate between them to determine which is the best. It is already known that a pneumatic actuator uses compressed air to operate the valve, and an electric actuator employs an electric motor.

Besides the above differences, several other characteristics separate one from the other. Here is a quick table for a better understanding of pneumatic motor vs electric motor to make an intelligent choice in the future:

BASIS OF DIFFERENCEPNEUMATIC ACTUATORELECTRIC ACTUATOR
DESIGNThe design of a pneumatic actuator is simple.The design of an electric actuator is complex.
INSTALLATIONIndustrial valve actuators are easier to install due to their simple design, but the motion profile is hard to change after sizing.These devices are difficult to install due to their complex design, but the motion profile is easier to change after sizing.
FORCE & SPEEDPneumatic actuators offer more force and speed per unit size than their counterparts, and adjusting them is easy.Electric actuators do not allow easy control and regulation of the force and speed in a system.
STALLINGIt is easy to stall these actuators.It is not easy to stall electric actuators during their use or operation.
RESISTANCE TO MOISTUREPneumatic actuators are insensitive to moisture.Electric actuators should be kept away from moisture.
TEMPERATUREPneumatic actuators are rated for temperatures between -20 to 350 degrees F.Electric actuators are rated for temperatures ranging between 40 to 150 degrees F.
COMPONENT COSTThe component costs of pneumatic actuators are low.The component costs of electric actuators in butterfly valve are high.
OPERATING COSTRegardless of the low component costs of pneumatic actuators, their operating costs are pretty high.The operating costs of an electric actuator are low compared to a pneumatic actuator.
HEATINGThese actuators resist overheating due to their perfect design.These actuators tend to overheat.
SPRING RETURNA pneumatic actuator offers an inexpensive spring return or fail-safe feature.An electric actuator is not widely available in a spring return or fail-safe version.
TORQUE TO WEIGHT RATIOPneumatic actuators used in a V ball valve have a high torque-to-weight ratio.Electric actuators have a low torque-to-weight ratio compared to pneumatic actuators.
FORCETheir force depends on the air pressure.Their force depends on the lead or screw pitch.
SPEEDThese can operate in ½ to ¼ second to open or close a metal seated butterfly valve.These can take up to and exceed two minutes to open or close a valve.
MAINTENANCEThe maintenance requirements of a pneumatic actuator are very high.The maintenance needs of an electric actuator are minimal compared to its counterpart.

An actuator is a machine component responsible for moving and controlling a mechanism or a system. While the structures of both actuators are similar, their differences lie in their power source, which can be pneumatic (air) or electric (AC/DC). Hopefully, the above differences help everyone understand about pneumatic actuator vs electric to determine their suitability for an application.

Parting Thoughts

In several industries today, including automotive, wood, power generation, chemical processing, food and beverage processing, wastewater treatment, and marine, pneumatic and electric valve actuators are used. Although both are used indoors and outdoors in extremely harsh conditions, several features and functions separate them.

Hopefully, this blog helps everyone understand the points of difference between pneumatic vs electric actuators so that they can choose a suitable one according to a specific application. While electric actuators are ideal for precise control and quieter operation, pneumatic actuators offer durability, quick cycle times, and greater availability in fail-safe variations.

Although both actuators offer a medium service life, periodic maintenance is necessary. So, the final choice between them comes down to simplicity, precision, efficiency, and care. To buy these devices from a reliable seller of high quality, you can contact us.

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