What’s the Difference Between Pneumatics and Hydraulics?

API UK supplies a range of cylinders and associated products and accessories that can be used in both hydraulic and pneumatic systems. But what are the key differences between the two? Read on to find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of hydraulics and pneumatics, and find out more about the fantastic products we supply.

The key difference between the two is down to the medium used to power the cylinders. Simply put:

  • Pneumatic systems provide fluid power using compressed air.
  • Hydraulic systems provide fluid power using liquids.

But, there’s a lot more to know about these two methods to help you make the right choice about which method you need to employ in your company.


What job will they be doing?

The biggest consideration when choosing between hydraulic and pneumatic systems is the job at hand. This often comes down to a question of how much power is required. Pneumatic systems will operate effectively at around 100 PSI, whereas hydraulics can rack up over 10,000 PSI in some special cases.

Clearly, heavier jobs such as construction will benefit from hydraulic systems given the hugely superior power output. That doesn’t mean to say that pneumatics are always inferior. Lower maximum power output aside, there are some key benefits of compressed air over liquid for other reasons.


Where will they be?

The best option for your application will depend on the location of the system and the kind of task to be done. For example, if you require high levels of hygiene and cleanliness on the job, then a pneumatic system will win out over hydraulics. This is because they require no liquid to operate. Plus, the air that they use is treated with air treatment equipment, and so the chance of contamination is much lower.

This makes pneumatics the choice for systems that operate in laboratories or in the food and beverage industries. At API UK, customers from the biomass and food industries regularly use our pneumatic cylinders. Not only because of the low risk of contamination that comes with compressed air systems, but also due to the fantastic range of stainless-steel cylinders and accessories we offer.


What else might you need to consider?

Along with power and cleanliness, when faced with the decision between hydraulic and pneumatic systems you should consider:


Speed and Size

Although the power output of hydraulic systems is much higher, the speed at which they can operate is slow in comparison to pneumatics. The fast flow rate of air compared to liquids like oil means that pneumatic cylinders generate high speeds that are better suited to certain specialised jobs, like robotics and medical tools. The pace at which they operate also benefits productivity, too.

In addition to their speed, pneumatic cylinders are available in much smaller sizes, so naturally they are more suitable for tasks that are constrained by space. However, if speed and space are not the issues, but the high-power output is, then the hydraulic system’s power and consistent pressure make them the right option.


Energy and Environment

Both kinds of systems use electricity to power them. But, there are some differences to consider that can affect energy consumption, which is something that needs careful consideration in today’s economic climate.

Pneumatic systems can leak air, causing them to be less efficient and also produce a lot of heat. This also contributes to energy loss (although this can be managed). Despite these factors, pneumatic systems are still considered to be the most environmentally friendly option.


Repair and Maintenance

Keeping your systems running is obviously crucial to your company’s operation. When it comes to maintaining hydraulics vs. pneumatics, there are some key differences again.

As we know, pneumatics use filtered air, so keeping them clean is much easier to do in comparison to the greater risk of corrosion and contamination with oil in hydraulic systems. API UK supplies cylinders, valves and accessories in stainless steel, giving you the best materials to limit the damage and corrosion to your system.

If you need support and guidance on how best to maintain your pneumatic or hydraulic systems, our friendly, knowledgeable team is always happy to help you out.


Health and Safety

The most important part of your business is making sure your people are safe. As a rule, pneumatic systems are safer, owing mainly to the use of compressed air over specialised oil in hydraulics. If a system leaks, then air is not going to cause an issue of contamination, nor is it combustible or corrosive. It’s therefore safer. A leak in a hydraulic system could cause a greater emergency. But of course, the compressed air could still cause physical damage if the system fails.


benefits of stainless steel pneumatics


Our products in action

API UK is a leading provider of pneumatic and hydraulic products, including pneumatic cylinders, valves, and accessories.

They are used in a wide range of different industries including:

  • Biomass manufacturing
  • Food and beverage industry
  • Specialist vehicle manufacture

Because we can offer same-day manufacture and supply, and still come in up to 30% cheaper than our competitors, it’s no surprise that more and more industries turn to API UK for hydraulic and pneumatic solutions.

If you’re looking to find out more about any of our pneumatics for hydraulics, contact us today and one of our helpful team will get back to you.