Electric Actuator Control
Electric Actuator Control

Electric Actuator Control


Electric linear actuators are designed for organizing and applying the translational motion. They are quite affordable, energy-efficient, and easy to operate. Due to these advantages, the devices are often used in many industries and projects, including modern robotics, home automation, amateur radio projects, and so on.

However, the drives do not work by themselves and are activated by a managing element - a linear actuator control system. In this article, we will go through how to control a linear actuator using these devices.

How to Control a Linear Actuator’s Position

As explained already, electric linear actuators do not work on their own but require a linear actuator control system. The main task of the electric actuator controller is to start and stop the drive. Therefore, the controller typically includes switchgear management – a type of linear actuator speed control. The classic linear actuator has two connection pins.

The direction of movement of the rod (extension and retraction) is chosen by switching the power polarity. With voltage applied, the movement of the rod begins. Inside the actuator, there are two end microswitches (limit switches), so that in the extreme positions of the stem, the motor stops even if the power supply continues.

Schema of actuator and its specifications

Answering the question how do motor starters work?, it is down to the electric motor starter switch. This standard two-position control can regulate the movement of the actuator rod to its extreme positions. It is usually connected to an actuator via a magnetic coil.

In addition to the actuator itself, you will also need some mounting equipment and a power source. The need for a control element opens up the broadest prospects for the implementation of an electric linear actuator. Linear actuators can be applied to almost every sphere of everyday life - manufacturing, home automation, robotics, agriculture, etc.

Synchronizing Multiple Linear Drives with a Motor Control Switch

First, let us review how a linear drive works. To bring the linear actuator into action, a lead screw is used which is rotated by a DC motor. Thanks to this, the linear motion of the DC voltage device is created. Turning the power off, you can lock the linear drive in its current position.

Even if you purchase several identical linear actuators, you may still encounter the situation when they work asynchronously and the pistons move along the grooves at different speeds or from varying positions. If at the same time each actuator in a control system is under varying loads, this will put them into a complete disorder.

Infographic of the linear actuator with position feedback PA-17 POT series by Progressive Automations

In such cases, it makes sense to use a closed control system employing electrical motor switches based on the limit switch working principle. For the drives themselves, you must choose models equipped with feedback sensors (potentiometers, optical, or Hall sensors).

Sensor data allows the control device to determine the actuator’s stroke current positioning, speed and direction of movement, and even its load. Each connected electric actuator motor switch, in turn, allows the controller to manage the starting and stopping moments for actuators so that regardless of the load, they would operate synchronously.

Photo of a control box

Types of Actuator Switches

Actuator Zone offers a variety of control boxes for linear actuators in plug-and-play format. Some items in our model range are wireless, which greatly simplifies the integration into the system. There are also some additional options for actuator control including feedback-based with foot control; such models are suitable for synchronizing several drives and designed for integration into basic devices (microcontrollers), etc.

In general, Actuator Zone has a huge range of solutions that will help you simplify the process of managing actuators as much as possible and, if necessary, create your synchronization solution. Click here to browse our control system solutions.

Photo of an arduino by Progressive Automations

How to Control a Linear Actuator with Arduino?

Arduino is a compact universal hard/software controller building kit. Among other areas of applications, it can be used to control linear actuators. For this, a linear actuator control box with I/O interfaces is connected to the Arduino microcontroller. Control program modules are created with the Arduino IDE based on the abstractions set by the Processing and Wiring projects.

To use this platform, it is not necessary to be an advanced programmer: all code is implemented in Java using several public libraries, which greatly simplifies the work with the device. Moreover, ready-made solutions developed by other users for a wide variety of actuators and application scenarios can be found online.

The Arduino boards integrate processing units, memory banks, and interfaces for connecting multiple types of sensors, motors, and other electrically controlled devices. This opens up enormous opportunities for innovators such as amateur radio enthusiasts.

If you want to use Arduino for linear actuator control, you would not need a programmer device as these microcontrollers have their own bootloader modules. It would be enough to connect the system board to the computer via USB or through the UART-USB adapter and upload the firmware. 

Finally, Arduino kits include a pin connector for in-circuit programming (ICSP for AVR, JTAG for ARM), which maximizes the possibilities of centralized control of actuators and any other elements that can be connected to the microcontroller board.

Torque Switch for Linear Actuators: Price Tag

Prices for quality reversible switches for electric motors start at $30. This is the optimal market value for devices of this configuration in conjunction with a high level of quality.

Control Boxes for Linear Actuators: Summary

Powerful microcontrollers connected to linear actuator control boxes allow for quite complex systems and algorithms to be implemented. Therefore, it is very important to find a high-quality device that will be reliable and easy to manage. We hope that this article will help our readers choose a model that will serve for years and match their requirements exactly.

Anna Sapiga

AZ Engineer