What Are Actuators and Their Types?

An actuator is a basic component for machinery, allowing for a mechanism or system to carry out a procedure. At their most basic form, an actuator is a “mover”, such as when they serve to open the mechanism or assembly. With most actuator types, a power source is needed to create the movement necessary for carrying out a task. As such, hydraulic, pneumatic, electric, magnetic, and mechanical actuators all serve as useful “movers” for diverse applications. In this blog, we will provide an overview of the primary actuator types, allowing you to find the best fit for your needs.

With the hydraulic actuator type, a mechanical operation may be carried out through the use of a cylinder or fluid motor. As fluids are incompressible, they can transfer large amounts of force and energy through their liquid, making them useful as actuators. By applying fluid pressure to the side of a hydraulic piston or other component, linear, rotary, or oscillatory motion can be achieved to carry out a variety of tasks. While hydraulic forces can be great, such actuators can be limited in their acceleration.

With a pneumatic actuator type, compressed gases are used to provide similar functionality to the hydraulic type. As compared to hydraulics, however, pneumatic actuators are much quicker in their response, and gases do not need to be stored for continued operation. Furthermore, pneumatic actuators can be very useful for a number of applications due the high amounts of force that they can provide despite having a small volume. Despite these advantages, pneumatic actuators require the implementation of compressed air networks and accompanying components to sufficiently transfer power to the actuator.

Electric actuators may come in the form of an electromechanical actuator, electrohydraulic actuator, or linear motor. With an electromechanical actuator, rotational forces can be transformed into linear motion through the use of a belt or screw. As compared to pneumatic actuators, electromechanical types have high levels of accuracy and require little maintenance. With the electrohydraulic actuator type, electric motors are used alongside hydraulic accumulators in order to achieve high amounts of force. As such, they can serve well for construction and excavation equipment processes. Lastly, the linear motor operates similarly to rotary motors, though they create a linear force along their length. With high precision, high cycling rates, and the lack of lubricants for their operation, such components are very useful for many applications.

Magnetic or thermal actuators are those that utilize a solid-state component for their actuation. By heating up a solid-state strip or causing a magnetic field to generate, the material may be activated to carry out a specific procedure. As compared to other actuator types, magnetic and thermal actuators tend to be very compact, lightweight, and cost-efficient.

Last, but not least, the mechanical actuator is a simplistic type that can convert one form of motion to another. As such, mechanical actuators may carry out processes with the use of gears, pulleys, chains, and other mechanical components. An example of a mechanical actuator is the rack and pinion, that of which is an assembly that utilizes circular and linear gears to transform rotational movement into a linear motion.

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