Electric actuators avoid some classic hydraulic actuator challenges

Hydraulic vs. electric actuators technology update: When less than 2000 lb of force is required, electric actuator systems provide a better performing, more cost-efficient, more environmental, less risky solution with improved control and precision.
By Ajay Arora March 18, 2014

Take stock of your hydraulic actuator automation to ensure you’re really getting the best bang for your buck in automation design. Courtesy: Progressive AutomationsWhen deciding between electric and hydraulic actuation, when the force required is less than 2,000 lb, electric actuator systems provide a better performing, more cost-efficient, more environmental, less risky solution with improved control and precision. For years, hydraulic actuators have been one of the go-to automation solutions for manufacturers, construction operations, and others. Over the past few decades, more companies are turning to electric actuators because of better operations and maintenance in many applications.

Heat dissipation

Those operating a hydraulic system know how overheating can occur. Hydraulics have a large number of system components, and overheating can occur at many different areas of the system or in multiple areas.

Determining the root cause of overheating can be tedious, and lead to downtime, replaced components, and added ongoing maintenance costs.

When electric actuator systems are used within the manufacturer’s specifications, overheating shouldn’t occur in the system. If it does, finding out where the problem is can take less time; the risk of component damage is lower since there are fewer of them.

Fluid issues

Hydraulic fluid creates a risk of broken seals and escaped fluid at temperatures that can cause burns and penetrate skin. Spills increase risk for operators and other personnel. Safe fluid disposal requires time, attention, and money.

Hydraulic actuator manufacturers provide specifications in parts per million (ppm) that determine the amount of foreign liquids and solids that can penetrate the actuator into the fluid before it loses function. Liquid contamination can be withstood for a certain amount of time, but once it gets past that number, performance can diminish. Some liquids can chemically interact with hydraulic fluid.

An electric actuator system generally uses a small amount of lubrication, decreasing risk for personnel and the environment. If there’s contamination, replacement takes minutes. 

Long-term cost cutting

Greater complexity of hydraulic systems requires more maintenance, energy usage, parts replacement, and downtime. A less complex system uses fewer parts. Hydraulic actuators can experience wasted energy when shifting speeds; electric systems are smooth and use energy more efficiently. Electric actuators systems can be up to 80% more efficient than hydraulic actuator systems.

Getting the most out of an automation system means investing in one that provides the most benefit with the least sacrifice. In some situations, electric actuators might be the best option.

– Ajay Arora is product engineer for Progressive Automations. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

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