Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Basics of Actuators

An actuator is a component of a machine that is responsible for moving or controlling a mechanism or system, for example by actuating (opening or closing) a valve; in simple terms, it is a "mover".

An actuator requires a control signal and a source of energy. The control signal is relatively low energy and may be electric voltage or current, pneumatic or hydraulic pressure, or even human power. The supplied main energy source may be electric current, hydraulic fluid pressure, or pneumatic pressure. When the control signal is received, the actuator responds by converting the energy into mechanical motion.

An actuator is the mechanism by which a control system acts upon an environment. The control system can be simple (a fixed mechanical or electronic system), software-based (e.g. a printer driver, robot control system), a human, or any other input.


The history of the pneumatic actuation system and the hydraulic actuation system dates to around the time of World War II (1938). It was first created by Xhiter Anckeleman (pronounced 'Ziter') who used his knowledge of engines and brake systems to come up with a new solution to ensure that the brakes on a car exert the maximum force, with the least possible wear and tear.

There are hydraulic, pneumatic, electric, thermal or magnetic, and mechanical actuators.  There now exist 3-D printed soft actuators as well.

Examples of Actuators

  • Comb drive
  • Digital micromirror device
  • Electric motor
  • Electroactive polymer
  • Hydraulic cylinder
  • Piezoelectric actuator
  • Pneumatic actuator
  • Screw jack
  • Servomechanism
  • Solenoid
  • Stepper motor
  • Shape-memory alloy
  • Thermal bimorph

Performance Metrics

Performance metrics for actuators include speed, acceleration, and force (alternatively, angular speed, angular acceleration, and torque), as well as energy efficiency and considerations such as mass, volume, operating conditions, and durability, among others.

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