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Pneumatic and Hydraulic Systems

January 10th, 2003 - Created
January 10th, 2003 - Updated

At the heart of any animatronic figure you will find the power system. Simply put, the power system is responsible for making the figure move using various types of motors and actuators.

One of the most commonly used methods involves the use of pneumatic systems. Webster's dictionary defines pneumatic as:

of, relating to, or using gas (as air or wind): a : moved or worked by air pressure b (1) : adapted for holding or inflated with compressed air (2) : having air-filled cavities.

Another widely used method involves the use of hydraulic systems. Hydraulic is defined as:

a branch of science that deals with practical applications (as the transmission of energy or the effects of flow) of liquid (as water) in motion.

These definitions are quite general in nature but give us the basic understanding that pneumatic systems use gas (air) and hydraulic systems use liquid (oil or water based).

Hydraulic and pneumatic systems are used separately or in combination along with other technologies to create animatronic figures.

Hydraulic systems have a number of advantages over pneumatic systems and are generally superior in reproducing exact movements.

Pneumatic systems are less expensive and easier to implement than hydraulic systems. Pneumatic systems are very acceptable in many areas of animatronic design when the high accuracy positioning and velocity of hydraulic systems is not required.

Some of these materials may seem complicated. Others will be very simple and easy to read. If you find a document to be overly complicated for your level of learning, it still might be s good idea to look at them anyway, you might pick up little bits of information here and there. At least you can look at the pretty pictures in some of them.

January 10th, 2003 - Created

Let's start out with something cute and easy. This is a little tutorial on the basics of hydraulic systems as applied to race cars. Even though a race car is not an animatronic figure or theme park dark ride, the principles are exactly the same.

  Digger Jr. Explains Hydraulics and Hydrostatics
January 10th, 2003 - Created
January 10th, 2003 - Updated

I've read through the following Technical Paper Series from the National Fluid Power Association. You can visit the NFPA site at

You will need adobe acrobat which can be downloaded for free by clicking here for details

Closed loop systems use some form of feedback to tell system controllers the positioning information from actuators and motors. This first paper discusses different types of feedback technologies:

  Feedback Technologies for Pneumatic Cylinders

Take a look at the components of open and closed loop systems:

  Components of Linear Open/Closed Loops


More information coming soon!

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