What is a Linear Actuator?

One of the more important implements in the manufacturing world is the actuator, and while there are many different actuator styles, perhaps none are as useful as that of the linear actuator.

In simple terms, a linear actuator is a mechanical device that creates motion in a linear, or straight, line. This varies significantly from the circular motion that is created by conventional motors, thus making the linear actuator unique in its operation.

By connecting a linear actuator to a rotating electrical motor, operations are no longer limited to circular motion. In fact, it is the spinning of the electric motor that causes the linear actuator to move up and down.

Types of Linear Actuators
There are three primary types of linear actuators – screw, wheel and handle, and cam.

  • The screw style actuator is very simple, as its up and down movement is controlled by the winding of screw threads to the desired position.
  • The wheel and handle actuator typically gets its linear movement from a belt or chain that is attached to a shaft.
  • The cam style linear actuator uses a wedge style device to control the movement of the actuator.

How is a linear actuator used?
One of the most common implements where a linear actuator is used is in the operation of a hydraulic car jack. In this case, fluid is pumped into a piston, which then moves up and down, according to the volume of flowing fluid present in the system. Another popular use of linear actuators is in damper systems. Often, large facilities will require vents to be opened at closed at specified intervals, and it is the linear actuator that is responsible for moving the damper arm, which then operates the vent.

In the manufacturing industry, linear actuators are used in braking machine motions. This action can often be seen in stamping presses, where an operator places a piece of metal to be formed into a mould, then uses a hand lever to control the linear actuator during the stamping process. Of course, these examples are just a glimpse of the literally thousands of different applications that utilise the abilities of linear actuators.