What Are Different Types of Actuators?

Whether working with motor device parts or serving as a machine expert, actuators are a familiar device type that may be found in a multitude of assemblies across many industries. In their most basic form, actuators are a component that may be used to manage movements within machines. Despite this, there are various types of actuators that may conduct different motions through the use of an assortment of power sources. These can include types such as the hydraulic actuator, pneumatic actuator, linear actuator, and electric actuator, all of which present unique operational characteristics and functionalities. In this blog, we will discuss actuators and their common types, allowing you to better understand their general use across various applications.

When implemented within a machine assembly, an actuator is the component that acts as a mover once it receives feedback from a control signal. Depending upon the actuator and the design of the system, the motion that is carried out may differ. Actuators have been widely used since the World War II era, some of the most popular implementations being within electric motors, stepper motors, and hydraulic cylinder assemblies. Within an electric motor, for example, the actuator serves to translate electrical energy into motion, regularly permitting the operations of refrigerators, blenders, and other various appliances and devices.

To classify actuator types, such components are separated into the motion that they produce and the power source that they rely on. Linear and rotary actuators provide the two types of motion for actuators, each of which may be beneficial for certain needs. Linear actuators are capable of producing movement across a linear axis, often being found within various hydraulic and pneumatic devices. For a simplistic linear actuator, such devices comprise a nut, cover, and a sliding tube that provides space for motion. With rotary actuators, meanwhile, a circular motion is created with the power source. Such actuators are commonly paired with linear actuators, and common applications include windshield wipers, fans, manufacturing machines, and more.

Hydraulic actuators are those that take advantage of hydraulic fluid for operations, often featuring a fluid filled cylinder with an internally suspended piston. These actuators commonly are used for linear actuation, and a spring component ensures that the actuator can return to a resting state when power ceases to be applied. Pneumatic actuators, on the other hand, take advantage of pressurized gases to achieve mechanical motion. With their high reliability and stop and start precision, many manufacturers favor pneumatic actuators over hydraulic types.

Beyond using pressurized fluids and gases for actuation, there are also many components that require electricity for movement. With the flow of electricity creating the power needed for motion, such components may be found within electric automobiles, manufacturing assemblies, and much more. Electromechanical actuators are a common type that convert signals into rotary or linear motion, sometimes being capable of both. Meanwhile, electrohydraulic actuators are electrically powered while using a hydraulic accumulator for carrying out motion for increased power and force.

Beyond such examples, there are also numerous other variations such as thermal actuators, magnetic actuators, mechanical actuators, and more. When choosing between varying types, one should consider the compatibility with available power sources, what movement is required, needed precision, safety concerns, and other various factors. When you find yourself in need of actuators for the assembly of a device or for general maintenance, let the experts at NSN Unlimited help you secure competitive pricing and rapid lead-times on everything that you desire.

NSN Unlimited is a trusted distributor for bearing components, fasteners, connector parts, and aircraft parts, providing customers with rapid lead-times and competitive pricing on countless top-quality items. Take the time to fully explore our vast offerings and catalogs, and our team of industry experts are readily available 24/7x365 to assist customers with competitive quotes on items for comparisons. Get started today and see why customers choose to rely on NSN Unlimited for all their operational requirements.


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