Drifting from Hydraulic to Electric Actuators: Aircraft and Warmachines

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Traditionally, the Aerospace and Defence industry used hydraulic and pneumatic actuation systems, owing to low cost and high-power densities. Nevertheless, in recent times, due to limitations like weight, performance, and maintenance requirements, hydraulic actuators have been replaced by electric actuators. According to US Naval Research, the use of integrated electric designs can enhance efficiency, effectiveness, and survivability, with simultaneous increase in design flexibility.

Developments of electric actuators in modern aircraft: 

Boeing 787 is the first more-electric aircraft, in terms of actuation and control systems, in the commercial aviation industry. For military aviation, the pioneer in more-electric aircraft is Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II.

The replacement of pneumatic and hydraulic systems on aircraft, with smart electrical systems, reduces the amount of wiring, particularly large wiring on commercial aircraft. For instance, 20 miles of wiring is removed in the design of Boeing 787, owing to its all-electric nature.

The main advantages of the more-electric Boeing 787 architecture are:

  1. Reduced weight, which reduces fuel consumption.
  2. Increased overall efficiency and reliability of improved system performance.
  3. Less complex design.
  4. Improved safety and reduced risk.

1.Reduced weight, which reduces fuel consumption:

Boeing performed many analyses, which indicated that electrically powered technology can reduce the weight of the equipment, ranging from few hundred to several thousand pounds, which directly correlates to reduction in fuel consumed, and hence, saving several million dollars in operation and acquisition costs. By changing hydraulic and pneumatic actuators to electric actuators, several components, like fluids, external pumps, DCVs, piston-cylinder arrangement, etc., can be removed, thereby eliminating their weight.

2. Increased overall efficiency and reliability of improved system performance:

The Boeing 787 was the first “more-electric” aircraft. The efficiency of the system is improved by eliminating the need to convert the engine shaft power to pneumatic power. The extraction of electric power from the engine provides an efficient way to operate the braking, cabin pressurization, and engine starting systems. The electric driver system provides real-time feedback through motor controllers, which can be linked to diagnostic systems, thereby simplifying diagnostic error finding.

3. Less complex design:

Electric actuators provide more accurate control with faster reaction times, which increases system reliability by reducing the part count. As the number of parts are less, the design is much simpler, and the system experiences less downtimes caused by the failure of complex mechanical components. Since only the installation of the actuator, electric power, and feedback cables are involved, the installation time is less. Moreover, these systems are not affected by pressure drops, unlike hydraulic pumping systems.

4. Improved safety and reduced risk:

The key benefit of electric actuators over hydraulic actuators is that there is no leakage of hydraulic fluids, like flammable and carcinogenic oil, which has been the cause of many aircraft accidents in the past. Electric actuation makes military vehicles, aircraft, and vessels less vulnerable in combat. Also, these hydraulic fluids could cause serious health problems following exposure to eyes, ignition, inhalation, and skin contact, during maintenance.

Due to their advantages over hydraulic systems the trend of moving toward electric actuators is active in the aerospace and defence industry, and companies like Honeywell International, Electromech Technologies, UTC Aerospace Systems, etc., are working on electrical actuators, for their development and deployment in commercial and defense aircraft.

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About the Market:

The Aerospace and Defence Actuator Market is expected to register a CAGR of XX%, during the forecast period (2018-2023). The increasing demand for the manufacturing of more sophisticated aircraft, with newer technology, is one the major drivers of the aerospace and defense actuator market.

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Mordor Intelligence is a market intelligence and advisory firm operating in 14 industry segments, serving over 600 clients, worldwide.

Divya Basuti
Divya Basuti Divya is a Market Research Analyst with Mordor Intelligence. She is a big-picture thinker with a post-graduate degree from the Institute of Science and Technology and an inclination toward interdisciplinary and applied sciences. Divya is dedicated to providing insightful and practical research to the industry through investigating trends and analyzing data.
Divya Basuti Divya is a Market Research Analyst with Mordor Intelligence. She is a big-picture thinker with a post-graduate degree from the Institute of Science and Technology and an inclination toward interdisciplinary and applied sciences. Divya is dedicated to providing insightful and practical research to the industry through investigating trends and analyzing data.  

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