The Efficiency of a Pneumatic Actuator in the modern Industry

Every time we enjoy a capsule of Nespresso coffee or we unplug a fresh bottle of milk, we probably ignore that, behind the production of these everyday products, there are linear actuators that push, fill, seals and  position them on the manufacturing line.

A typical industrial machine may include between 100 and 1,000 linear actuators, which gives the idea of the importance of this component in the modern industry.

Linear actuators appeared for the first time toward the end of the 20’s across the second world industrial revolution. The first actuators used were pneumatics, see fig.1 which are able to convert energy in form of cumulated compressed air into a linear mechanical motion.

                                                                                   Fig. 1 Example of Pneumatic Actuator using compressed air

Still today pneumatic actuators represent the most common solution, accounting for 70% of the global market(*). The main players of the market are FESTO, SMC Corporation, Parker Hannifin Corporatio and few more.

Its wide market penetration can be explained by a large range of possibilities offered by the pneumatics technologies, an affordable entry price, and mechanical engineering proficiency in using this mature technology.

Furthermore, as pneumatic actuators rely on compressed air systems which are the muscles of this technology, the cylinders are normally small and powerful, those are desired characterstics of machines’ suppliers to build machines having a small footprint.

However, pneumatic actuators are one of the most inefficient links in a modern production chain, because they entail several important issues. At KOMP-ACT, we were able to highlight the main problems related to pneumatic actuators by means of direct interactions we had with dozens of manufacturing companies from small to large.

In this article we will talk about the Very low energy efficiency problem:

The need for compressed air requires a complex production infrastructure with a large use of air tubes and servo-valves, which makes the technology energy inefficient with energy losses up to 95% because of a large number of systems components.

The following table – derived from the article Methods to Evaluate and Measure Power of Pneumatic System and Their Applications” – shows the efficiency of each elements of a  pneumatic systems. By suming up all the efficiency the resulted efficiency of a pneumatic actuators is 10,9%.

What does it means an efficiency of 10,9% for the industry? It means that each 100 Euro spent in electricity bill, 89,1 Euro represents a wasteful power loss due to the pneumatic technology. 

What is the impact in the world due to this wasteful technology? And can we get rid of it? 

Assessing the impact of pneumatic actuators is rather a daunting tasks, however at KOMP-ACT have estimated that in Europe there are more than 300,000 facilitiyes using pneumatic actuators and that the annual energy consumption is estimated to be 5 Bio EUR. Of this amount 89% shall be considered as a source of potential saving.

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