Linear Actuator Applications and Uses | ActuatorZone

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Bet you can't

name all the linear actuator applications

Actuators are everywhere. They can turn up in the most unexpected places; from inside your cell phone to the Mars Rover. They range in size from something that can fit into the palm of your hand to an automation device you would need help lifting. They improve the quality of your lifestyle. Modern devices that require motion of any kind could not function without an actuator. But what exactly are they?

What Is An Actuator?

Simply put, an actuator is a mechanism that converts energy into motion. At the heart of an actuator is a simple machine like a screw, wheel and axle, lever or wedge. The motion created by an actuator can be linear (from point A to point B), rotary (around) or oscillatory (back and forth) and takes a variety of forms including blocking, clamping and gripping. They are commonly used in manufacturing in motors, pumps, switches and valves to turn them on and off; control pressure; or regulate flow.

Popular Uses for Actuators

An actuator is designed to move something: a door, a damper, valve, even a roof. Actuators do so many different things in so many different ways that applications for them might appear endless. Here are some practical actuator applications you might recognize:

  • Cell phones: When you switch it to vibrate, it's the mini-actuator inside your phone moving rapidly back and forth that creates the buzzing sound that alerts you.
  • Automobiles: Actuators provide the motions necessary in power locks and windows. Ditto for cruise control. In today's car you can find over 100 actuators that help execute a variety of functions including, steering, braking, adjusting the side mirrors, repositioning your seat and inciting the windshield wipers into action.
  • At the Cinema: What makes a car fly up in the air after an explosion? Typically it is a big actuator triggered at the same time as the explosion to send it flying. Any Hollywood film that uses a mobile prop, such as a robot, probably has an actuator in it.
  • Robots: Any type of robot you've ever seen, including the one (the Roomba) that vacuums your apartment, uses a number of actuators. Actuators move a robot's arms, legs, head, and even make them walk.
  • Space vehicles: A space vehicle like the Mars Rover is full of actuators; the main ones power the wheels and the sample collection tool.

Types of Actuators

Linear Actuators

linear actuator typically converts rotary motion into linear motion by simple machines like the screw, wheel and axle or cam. By rotating an actuator's screw, the nut holds it in place, generating a linear motion, allowing the screw to travel in a straight line. When this is done without the benefit of a motor, it is called a mechanical linear actuator; with a motor, it is known as an electric linear actuator.

Mini Linear Actuators

mini linear actuator is smaller in size than other types of linear actuators and is usually used in very specific technological applications where compactness is required.

Heavy Duty Actuators

heavy duty actuator is designed for applications that include heavy lifting. While heavy duty actuators are commonly utilized for commercial and industrial purposes, they also have household and hobby uses.

Feedback Actuators

Ideally suited to applications that demand quiet, smooth linear movement, feedback actuators are linear actuators that include some kind of positioning control.

Track Actuators

Track actuators are for applications where the space involved is known, and won't change. Since the track actuator uses only as much space as its length, the stroke moves along a track and does not extend beyond the unit as it does in other types of actuators.

For more in depth information on the different types of actuators and how they work please see one of our latest blog posts on actuator information.

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