Technology comparison

It's all about the mixture  

Technology comparison – it's all about the mixture

What is more energy efficient? Electrical or pneumatic equipment? Where do the advantages of one technology lie compared to the other? Daniel Ditterich explains in an interview the current point of view and how both technologies can work together.

Daniel Ditterich

Daniel Ditterich
Innovation and Technology Management at Festo

‘In order to find an optimal solution, you have to repeatedly look at the situation anew.’

Mister Ditterich, which technology approach do you take and what is your answer to the question: Electrical or pneumatic equipment?

Electrical or pneumatic equipment? Black or white? Bicycle or car? Most decisions depend on the respective application, use or operation. You certainly do not opt for a bicycle when you are travelling down south on holiday. A generalisation is also of no help with the question "electrical or pneumatic equipment". You always have to look at the situation afresh in order to find a new, ideal solution.

Festo's strength consists of the fact that you have both technologies at the company and both are available, doesn't it?

That is true. Festo has a very wide product range in both areas. We can therefore look at the application also with an eye on both alternatives in a competent and technology-neutral way and present several options to the customer.

Energy-efficient facilities increase productivity, reduce costs and conserve resources – and are therefore becoming increasingly important for operators. Many customers require systematic support here. For Festo, this is an important future field.
Energy-efficient facilities increase productivity, reduce costs and conserve resources – and are therefore becoming increasingly important for operators. Many customers require systematic support here. For Festo, this is an important future field.

To ask the question in practical terms: What do you recommend to a design engineer who is tackling a typical handling task?

It is very important to know the application as precisely as possible. The first question is therefore: What does the task look like? Then it is a question of the required functions: Are only movements necessary or are there also pressing and holding processes, where forces are applied? In the latter case a pneumatic device is often suitable, because here you want to be able to apply a force in the end position without consuming additional power. In an application without a holding function in the end position for longer horizontal movements, however, the electrical system may be better suited.

Which point of view dominates at the moment: do customers tend to look through their “cost glasses” or rather through their ecological glasses when it comes to new products today?

The ecological point of view has gained in importance with many applications and customers in recent years, be it for image reasons or out of environmental awareness. The cost view is often predominant nevertheless. We are of the opinion that you should have an eye on both. When it comes to costs, we try to point it out that it makes no sense to only look at purchase and energy costs. It makes more sense to look at the overall costs and the surrounding situation in a holistic way.

What are the biggest risks in your opinion?

Much too often, an incorrect picture of both technologies is conveyed or the focus is put on only individual aspects of one technology. This often leads to a form of one-sided knowledge and creates an incomplete picture of electrical or pneumatic drives. The sensible combination of both options sometimes comes up too short here. We therefore focus on the individual question posed by the customer and look at all approaches to the solution neutrally, in order to leave the decision to the customer. Besides costs, efficiency and ecological reasons, there are also other factors, which we evaluate and take into account together with the customer.

Combining the best properties of electrical and pneumatic drives is sometimes the best solution.
Combining the best properties of electrical and pneumatic drives is sometimes the best solution.

Which factors do you mean by that? Do you have an example from experience?

A laundry separates and sorts the clothes with a pneumatic installation. The requirements profile resulted in two versions that made sense technically – one with electrical drives and one with pneumatic drives. Despite a possible energy saving when applying the electrical system, the laundry opted for the pneumatic system. The decision for this was based on one very simple but sensible reason – in the event of a failure, one employee could still get the installation working again. With an electrical drive, this would not be feasible for a normal employee. Nobody is confident with electrical systems. These applications also show us time and time again how individual each case is and that there is no all-round solution.

The message therefore is: Are there no patented recipes?

Yes, because what you need to do is look at each individual case very closely. Only the application or the user decides which technology is the right one.

What do you think of combining the properties of both technologies?

A great deal. On a job for a packaging machine we were able to resort to our application knowledge and our product range with pneumatic and electrical automation technology. With this application, a conveyor belt takes the product and moves it to a second conveyor belt and puts it back down with a type of packaging. In doing so, a horizontal movement takes place combined with a vertical movement. We studied the three variations: pneumatic, electrical or pneumatic/electrical for this application. The technology mix consisting of a pneumatic/electrical drive proved to be the optimal mix of efficiency, costs, flexibility and performance.

Thank you for the conversation, Mister Ditterich!