In this article, a second-order sliding mode control (2-SMC) is proposed for second-order uncertain plants using equivalent control approach to improve the performance of control systems. A Proportional Integral Derivative (PID) sliding surface is used for the sliding mode. The sliding mode control law is derived using direct Lyapunov stability approach and asymptotic stability is proved theoretically. The performance of the closed-loop system is analysed through an experimental application to an electromechanical plant to show the feasibility and effectiveness of the proposed second-order sliding mode control and factors involved in the design. The second-order plant parameters are experimentally determined using input output measured data. The results of the experimental application are presented to make a quantitative comparison with the traditional (first-order) sliding mode control (SMC) and PID control. It is demonstrated that the proposed 2-SMC system improves the performance of the closed-loop system with better tracking specifications in the case of external disturbances, better behavior of the output and faster convergence of the sliding surface while maintaining the stability. (C) 2010 ISA. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.