Picking the Right Actuator for the Right Application
Picking the Right Actuator for the Right Application

Picking the Right Actuator for the Right Application

People of the 21st century are hard to astonish or even surprise. We are so used to our automated world that many things miraculous for humans of previous epochs provoke no more than a passing glance from the spoilt children of the Internet of things age. We press a button and scarcely pay attention to what happens around us afterward. Solar louvers close or open, desks change their height, TV sets and spice racks hide into the cabinetry of the bedroom and kitchen – but we never bat an eyelid.

However accustomed to these amazing transformations we might, it is still good to remember that they would be impossible without our valuable assistant – a reliable and silent linear actuator.

What are Actuators?

What does an actuator do? To figure it out let’s talk semantics. If you look up the verb “actuate” you will see that it means “to start an action”. So broadly speaking, actuators are movers. Their duty is to induce something to take a required position conditioned by a certain distance (lift-drop or pull-push motion) or a proper angle (adjust-tilt motion). Typically, this motion is linear displacement; therefore such devices are called linear actuators.

To exercise the mechanical displacement actuators need power. The power can come from three sources, so there are three actuator types: hydraulic, pneumatic, and electric actuators. Before you buy linear actuators you should realize the peculiarities of their construction, which to a great extent determine their application.

Schema of actuator and its specifications

How does a Linear Actuator Work?

Pneumatic and hydraulic linear actuators have a similar modus operandi. In both models, linear actuator parts include a pump with a piston and valves. The piston is set in motion by either air (in pneumatic devices) or fluid (in hydraulic ones). The force generated in such a way is quite considerable, so these actuator types are often used for heavy-duty assignments and utilized in industrial environments (for instance, in table linear lifts).

If you are looking for positioning precision and compact size in an environmentally-friendly mechanism your choice will definitely be an electric linear actuator. It consists of a lead screw and nut one of which (depending on the model) is propelled into motion with a motor powered by a battery. Thus, in DC actuators the rotary motion of the lead screw or the nut is transformed into linear. This general design feature is modified in various actuator types.

Types of Electric Actuators

One of the chief parameters along which electric linear actuators may be classified is their size. It doesn’t only determine how much room the device takes but also conditions other important characteristics of it, namely the actuators stroke length and the weight it can move. Thus, depending on their size there are heavy-duty industrial or small electric actuators utilized predominantly for home-related applications.

Modern miniaturization trend has brought forth mini and even micro actuators leveraged where precision and control of motion are imperative. The latter is provided by a dual linear actuator controller, or relay, that enables extended flexibility and greater automation options for fine-tuning.

Another parameter for classification is the design peculiarities of actuators. A regular electric actuator contains the basic lead screw and nut design. Some models called linear stepper actuators are able to divide rotary movement of the threaded rod into several equal steps which guarantee the minute accuracy of positioning, regular repetition of motion, and high-speed performance.

A somewhat different type is represented by a track actuator. Unlike the construction of an extended/retracted actuator, its design features a mounting block that slides along the device so the lead screw doesn’t leave its housing. Such architecture is perfect for environments with rigid space limitations.

Photo of the three linear actuators by Progressive Automations

Linear Actuator Applications

Today, there is hardly a sphere of our life that can do without electric linear actuators. Among them:

  • Leisure and recreation. In private boats and RVs, actuators are instrumental in moving drop-down and pop-up TVs as well as various furniture and equipment including beds, seats, ladders, hatches, and the like.
  • Green energy appliances. An outdoor linear actuator can be employed to enable solar panels to follow the sun ensuring the greatest insolation level during the day.
  • Industry and agriculture. For mechanical devices that require the precision of positioning and movement, an adjustable stroke linear actuator is indispensable. Handling miniature fibers, lenses, pumps, and valves are where actuators display their maximum efficiency. A considerable number of agricultural processes such as harvesting, plant heading, round bailing, etc. greatly benefit from utilizing heavy-duty actuators.
  • Domestic automation. Our homes present virtually limitless possibilities for linear actuators application. Height adjustable desks, TVs and computer monitors concealed in furniture and behind electric fireplaces, automated spice and appliance racks, hidden storage compartments in stairs, closets, and even walls – these are just a few examples how linear actuators streamline our household duties and make our everyday environment more user-friendly.


Before you buy a linear actuator you should clearly envision its future application. What is an actuator used for conditions its principal characteristics, such as size, type, stroke length, force, and so on and so forth? But more important is the correct choice of the actuator manufacturer. Cooperating with Progressive Automations you are sure to receive high-quality products provided and serviced by a dedicated team of committed professionals.

Jake Hewer

AZ Engineer

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