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February 21, 2024

Choose the right machine for your job: An overview of hydraulic, electric, and hybrid technology

Need to process custom tubing but don’t know what machinery type is best for your application?


Manufacturers have more choices than ever when it comes to machines that cut, form or manipulate tubes. In this article, we’ll explore today’s common machine technologies and when it makes sense to use each.


Today’s manufacturers can choose from the following types of machines:

  • Traditional hydraulic

  • All electric 

  • Hybrid hydraulic/electric 

With the right machine for your job, processing tubes is quick, efficient and cost-effective for your goals. So, which type should you choose for your application? The short answer is … it depends. 

Hydraulic machines

A hydraulic machine uses pressurized oil to apply a controlled force. Traditional hydraulic machines are great for high-force applications or applications with long hold times, like injection molding or heat-molded applications.

As the incumbent technology, hydraulic machines are likely more familiar to your maintenance team. Conventional hydraulic machines are affordable, reliable for straightforward applications and can be outfitted (at a cost) with additional features when exceptional accuracy or control features are required.

Factors to consider
  • Up-front costs. Hydraulic machines typically have the lowest up-front costs compared to hybrid or all-electric.

  • Operating costs. Hydraulic machines typically have higher annual operating costs than electric or hybrid due to the oil handling and filter changes required to maintain peak operation. For applications requiring a lot of force, though, hydraulic presses offer cheap, efficient power.

  • Heat and noise. Hydraulic machines produce more heat and noise emissions than other machines. Cooling the oil adds a heat load to your building. And the machine’s heat is a double-edge blade: During a winter chill, it’s a welcome feature. In a southern summer, not so much. Even when the machine is idle, it still generates heat and noise and may be pulling 12 or 13 amps.

  • Motion profiles. If your application requires complicated or advanced motion control (such as position loops, force loops, or velocity loops), you’ll need to add additional controls. Controls that come standard with hybrid or electric machines can add significant cost to hydraulic ones.

  • Your materials. If your application involves shaping certain composite materials like carbon fiber, special design considerations will apply when using hydraulic machinery that contains oil. Even small amounts of oil can damage composite materials like carbon fiber. Check out this case study to learn how one company resolved its oil contamination concerns.

  • Force requirements. Hydraulic machines are well suited to high-force/long-hold applications.


Electric machines

While electric machines have been around for a few decades (we designed our first in the late 1990s), they have become much more common in the last few years. 

With these machines, servo motors use electrical energy to produce motion to form and cut tubing. Servo motors are well suited to applications that require a complicated motion path or applications involving composite materials like carbon fiber. All-electric tube end-forming machines like our eRB80 IO+IO or our all-electric presses and saws offer velocity and force control for precision forming with the lowest available operating costs.

Considering an all-electric machine? Keep these factors in mind.

Factors to consider
  • Up-front costs. Electric machines typically cost 50-70% more than traditional hydraulic machines.

  • Operating costs. All-electric machines have the lowest maintenance and operating costs compared to hydraulic or hybrid. They don’t require regular oil changes and draw little power when idle. However, unfamiliar tech may present a learning curve for your maintenance team.

  • Heat and noise. Electric machines are significantly quieter than hydraulic when operating, and when they’re idling, they make very little noise at all. In addition, electric machines don’t produce high heat loads, do not have carbon emissions and draw very little power when idle (as little as one or two amps). This reduces operating costs. 

  • Motion profiles. Electric machines come standard with many control options — such as built-in position control, velocity control and force control — so they’re great for applications requiring complex motion profiles.

  • Your materials. All-electric machines are an excellent choice for clean rooms or applications involving composite materials like carbon fiber.

  • Force requirements. All-electric machines can be designed to perform in high-force applications but generating and maintaining the drive power needed in applications requiring longer, high-force hold times requires an intense energy draw.

Hybrid machines

Hybrid machines, like our EcoForm™ hybrid line, combine the strengths of electric and hydraulic systems. Electric servo technology offers precise control for complex motion profiles, while taking advantage of hydraulic force for heavy-duty applications. 

In a hybrid machine, there is no common manifold or directional valves. When the machine cycles into action, the servo motor rotates clockwise or counterclockwise to turn the bidirectional pump, which causes the cylinder to advance or retract. The rotational speed of the servo motor handles velocity control. Thanks to its power-on-demand system, the machine does NOT stay under pressure when the cylinder is not moving, so there’s limited power draw and no emissions when idle.

If a hybrid machine is on your radar, the following are some key considerations.

Factors to consider
  • Up-front costs. Hybrid machines typically cost 25-40% more up-front than a traditional hydraulic machines but less than all-electric ones.

  • Operating costs. Since they use less oil and draw limited power when idle, hybrid machines typically offer lower annual operating costs than hydraulic machines. However, the system is more complex than a traditional hydraulic machines and includes a drive and servo motor, which may require advanced technical knowledge to troubleshoot and repair.

  • Heat and noise. While not as quiet as an all-electric solution, the hybrid machine emits less heat and noise into the workspace than a traditional hydraulic machine, with no emissions while idle.

  • Motion profiles. A hybrid solution is an excellent choice for complex motion profiles due to its electric servo technology.

  • Oil needs. Hybrid machines still require oil, though significantly less than hydraulic machines. 

  • Force requirements. Hybrid machines are well suited to high-force/moderate-hold applications. 


Our recommendations

Of course, the best machine for your shop will depend on so many unique characteristics of your situation, from your company’s financial position to material details about the products you make.

But we’ve developed some opinions we’re confident in.

If you need a tool to perform straightforward work reliably, and your CapEx budget is tight, a hydraulic machine will suit you, increased operating expense aside.

But the more complex your job is, the more likely you’ll need to outfit a hydraulic machine with special controls. Suddenly, the price gap between a hydraulic and electric machine isn’t so extreme, and the electric machine will often provide more than enough value to justify its price tag.

When it comes to hybrid machines, this technology is a fantastic opportunity to upgrade from a traditional hydraulic machine in every application, while keeping costs lower than an all-electric machine. You’ll see returns on that upgrade in the form of minimized operating costs and increased quality of life for your team in almost every case.

Ready to spec your next tube processing machine?

The ultimate goal is to find the machinery that produces quality parts with tight tolerances and no unplanned downtime. If you still have questions, our team is ready to discuss your goals and challenges.  

So, get in touch. We’d love to talk shop or specs. If you need cost effective equipment or tooling that can process high quality tubular components, you need iES. 

A standard hydraulic machine
An all-electric machine
GAMA-105300-00 HYBRID.jpg
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