Pneumatics vs. Hydraulics: Which is Better?

When taking advantage of fluid power transmission for various applications, the choice between pneumatic and hydraulic systems can be tough. With either gases or liquids that are compressed within assemblies, large amounts of power can be used to actuate processes and carry out operations much more efficiently than more manual alternatives. While each system presents its unique advantages and disadvantages, neither system is particularly better than the other as they each may be fit for differing needs. To help you understand the difference between hydraulic and pneumatic systems as well as which may be the best for your application, we will provide a brief overview of each and how they function.

Pneumatics is a branch of engineering concerned with pressurized gases and how they may affect mechanical motion in accordance to the principles of fluid dynamics. While pneumatic equipment may vary depending on the application, the basic design of such systems is to have an assembly including a gas compressor, air tanks, hoses, transition lines, cylinders, and a compressed gas. The compressor will supply the compressed air through hoses, and solenoid valves act to regulate flow. With the use of a pneumatic cylinder, the energy of the compressed gases may be used to create mechanical energy.

Generally speaking, pneumatic systems can provide a pressure ranging from 550 to 690 kPa, and receiver tanks may store unused compressed gases so that operations are quick. Pneumatic systems may be used for a number of applications and industries, and common examples include food processing plants, mining, robotics, medical equipment, tools, and much more. Due to the fact that gas has the ability to be compressed, pneumatic systems do not risk shock damage as much.

With hydraulics, the transmission of power is carried out with the use of pressurized liquids. Similar to pneumatic systems, hydraulics rely on valves for managing the flow of hydraulic fluids, and pumps ensure pressure. Due to the near incompressible nature of liquids, hydraulic systems can achieve a high amount of force. Across varying systems, hydraulics may be used to supply anywhere from 1,000 to over 10,000 psi for an operation. Unlike pneumatics, the assemblies of hydraulic systems are often complex and contain parts such as valves, pumps, cylinders, pistons, and fluids. Hydraulic equipment also is often larger to contain the fluids needed for power transfer, and increased pressure is required for operations.

As stated before, liquids are highly incompressible and thus can transfer large amounts of force. As compared to pneumatics, hydraulic systems are often employed for applications that feature larger and heavier materials. Due to the risks associated with leaking liquids, hydraulics are never used for industries such as food manufacturing or medical applications. Most often, hydraulics may be found in aircraft control systems, elevators, dams, amusement parks, turbines, machine tools, and much more.

Due to the differences between hydraulics and pneumatics, the choice will often depend upon one’s specific needs. For instance, a hydraulic system may be more beneficial when moving heavier loads, but a pneumatic system can be cleaner and simpler to operate. For maintenance, hydraulics often need the most attention while pneumatics boast long service lives. Nevertheless, it is important to regularly care for each system type to ensure proper functionality and to avoid any failures or hazardous situations.

When you are ready to begin purchasing the pneumatic or hydraulic components that you need for your particular operations, there is no better alternative to Industrial Automation Parts. Industrial Automation Parts is a premier online distributor of aircraft parts, industrial components, and other various items that cater to diverse applications. Whether you need valves, electrical system components, or cylinder parts, we have you covered with top quality parts that have been sourced from countless leading manufacturers that we trust. When you find items that you are interested in, fill out and submit an Instant RFQ form through our website and a dedicated account manager will be in touch with you in 15 minutes or less.


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