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Setting the pace for the modern world

25 September 2018

Paul Slaughter considers the dynamics of the actuation market and growth opportunities for the future of electric and pneumatic actuation

Developments in technology, the mechanisation of manufacturing and process automation; along with the growth of our cities, transport links and infrastructure have all taken leaps forward in the last 30 years.

The actuation industry in its role of keeping the wheels of industry turning, has had to be agile and innovative in order to develop at the same pace and meet the demands of an increasingly automated and information hungry world.

We live in an information-led age, everything comes with ‘smart’ as standard and the actuation industry is no exception. In the valve and actuation market intelligent valves have gained momentum and are commonly specified across a raft of installations.

Actuation is increasingly required not only to fulfill basic functionality with high performance, but is now expected provide data and feedback about the operation.

The water and wastewater industry is one of the markets where electric actuation has grown - in water treatment works and desalination plants worldwide it is electric actuation the controls the ebb and flow of water.

Growth area

Furthermore, the water industry continues to present the major growth area for this market. Challenges such as leakage, cost-effective industrial pumping systems, ageing infrastructure and concerns about health and safety increases the need for high performance electric actuators.

Electric actuators are suited for simple applications requiring open/close operations and offer data exchange, greater safety and they are also hermetically sealed offering optimal protection. Electric operation offers energy savings, reduced long-term running costs, clean technology and quiet operation.

One of the major reasons electric actuators often take the upper hand in the water industry is the reliability and peace of mind they offer when used on large-scale, and often unmanned systems.

In addition, due to ongoing pressure to reduce their corporate carbon footprint, many water-industry businesses have recognised clear reductions in relation to energy usage since switching to electric actuation which offers greater monitoring and measurement.

Actuated Solutions features a wide range of both electric and pneumatic products and has for 15 years been serving the water, oil and gas industries all of which require very different actuation solutions. 

For the water industry the range include products which offer accurate process control, clean operation and reliability, for example the HQ-005 pushes the boundaries of what is possible to achieve with an actuator of its size.

It features a high visibility beacon, a brushless motor for increased reliability, LED status indicators and a manual override hand wheel for ease of use. It also automatically detects 110v or 240v and whether AC or DC is present on the 24V option.

This product also features a built-in electronic torque limiter will automatically cut the power, if required, to prevent damage to the motor and is ideal for outdoor treatment plants.

In more challenging applications such as oil and gas industry, it is pneumatic actuation that keeps the wheels of industry turning. Oil and gas production has a long history of using pneumatic actuators offshore and onshore, largely due to the mechanical simplicity of piston operators and their straightforward maintenance.

The oil and gas industry typically requires actuators that stand up to extremes

The oil and gas industry typically requires actuators that stand up to extremes and can be installed in hazardous explosive environments and withstand harsh outdoor temperatures.

Pneumatic actuators are tough and resilient offering thousands of open and close cycles and are considered a failsafe option, as even if the event of power failure the unit is designed with an internal spring return which closes the valve.

Additionally, pneumatic components offer increased safety within this combustible environment - as an instrument, air supply poses no sparking hazard on an oilrig. The combination of all of these elements is why pneumatic actuation is still the preferred method in oil and gas and other critical applications.

Manufacturers of both types of actuator are constantly improving their products. Technology has developed so that today there is the ability to monitor and diagnose issues with actuators so planning maintenance can be streamlined and downtime reduced.

The fact that smart controls on actuators are available for both pneumatic and electric-powered actuators gives the industry a level playing field.  Although, there is no doubt that there will always be fundamental need for fluid power actuators, electric actuators are without doubt starting to encroach on some of the more traditional domains for fluid-powered actuators - particularly where there are weight or space restrictions.

Paul Slaughter is managing director of Actuated Solutions Ltd.

Key Points

  • Intelligent valves have gained momentum and are commonly specified across a raft of installations
  • Many water-industry businesses have reduced energy usage since switching to electric actuation
  • In oil and gas, where actuators need to stand up to extremes, pneumatic actuators are the common choice

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