Actuators: Choosing the right technology

Machine designers should take a cross-technology view of power technology, choosing the most appropriate for their application.


Hoffman Estates , IL —Machine designers should take a cross-technology view of power technology, choosing the most appropriate for their application. Potential choices for driving translational degrees of freedom include electric, hydraulic, and pneumatic actuators. This strategy helps build efficiency, performance, and sustainable competitive advantage into their designs. Start with a broad generalization about the primary application then consider using hydraulic, electric, or pneumatic motion (see table below), knowing that many exceptions exist and that many applications embrace more than one technology.


Motion technology considerations include:


Flexibility: Servo systems are ideal for allowing setup parameters to be easily changed so the system can be reconfigured with changes only to the control program. Pre-packaged and customized application programs make tooling changeovers fast and easy.


Reliability and maintainability: Great progress has been made in materials, component packaging, and installation methods. Advanced diagnostics and predictive maintenance have also advanced considerably for all three technologies.


Many applications are not limited to one technology and can take advantage of the unique characteristics of each. Closed-loop control—once seen as the special advantage of electric control—is now possible with hydraulics and pneumatics, significantly raising their capabilities. And the new technologies of mechatronics–electropneumatics and electrohydraulics–are the result.


Machine designers should take a cross-technology view of their machine, using the best, most appropriate technology for their equipment, and thus building in efficiency, performance, and sustainable competitive advantage. In addition, newer software tools aim to integrate three, once-separate realms of programming into one platform, helping to speed up and simplify engineering tasks from project planning and programming to visualization and diagnostics.


Additional guidelines appear in the May 2007 “Back to Basics,” called “Motion: Electric, hydraulic, pnuematic.” See other automation tutorials at .

- Rodney Rusk, Dan Warmus, Brian Rogers, and Thomas Dwyer are pneumatic, hydraulic and electric technology specialists from Bosch Rexroth Corp .

Edited by C.G. Masi and Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering Machine Control eNewsletter


TABLE: Motion technology comparison for electric, hydraulic, pneumatic technologies





Working speed (velocity)

5 m/s

10 m/s

4 m/s

Power density




Achievable force



Limited, ~ 20 kN

Achievable stroke

High, to 10m+


High, to 10M+

Change of forces

Simple and accurate

Simple to complex

Simple and accurate








Very simple

Overload safety




Explosion proof





Source: Control Engineering and Bosch Rexroth


No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Sister act: Building on their father's legacy, a new generation moves Bales Metal Surface Solutions forward; Meet the 2015 Engineering Leaders Under 40
2015 Mid-Year Report: Manufacturing's newest tool: In a digital age, digits will play a key role in the plant of the future; Ethernet certification; Mitigate harmonics; World class maintenance
2015 Lubrication Guide: Green and gold in lubrication: Environmentally friendly fluids and sealing systems offer a new perspective
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Pipeline vulnerabilities? Securing hydrocarbon transit; Predictive analytics hit the mainstream; Dirty pipelines decrease flow, production—pig your line; Ensuring pipeline physical and cyber security
Cyber security attack: The threat is real; Hacking O&G control systems: Understanding the cyber risk; The active cyber defense cycle
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Building high availability into industrial computers; Of key metrics and myth busting; The truth about five common VFD myths
New industrial buildings: Greener, cleaner, leaner; New building designs for industry; Take a new look at absorption cooling; Offshored jobs start to come back

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.