What is an actuator?

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An actuator is something that converts energy into motion; it can also be used to apply a force.

Simply put, an actuator is a component of a machine that is in charge of movement and controlling a system or mechanism – opening a window for example. It’s a ‘mover’. As such, an actuator needs a control signal and a source of energy to work.

An actuator is something that converts energy into motion. It also can be used to apply a
force.

An actuator typically is a mechanical device that takes energy — usually energy that is
created by air, electricity or liquid — and converts it into some kind of motion.

That motion can be in virtually any form, such as blocking, clamping or ejecting. Actuators typically are
used in manufacturing or industrial applications and might be used in devices such as motors, pumps, switches and valves.

Energy Sources

Perhaps the most common type of actuator is powered by air and is called a pneumatic cylinder or air cylinder.

This type of actuator is an airtight cylinder, typically made from metal, that uses the stored energy of compressed air to move a piston when the air is released or uncompressed. These actuators are most commonly used in manufacturing and assembly processes.

Grippers, which are used in robotics, use actuators that are driven by compressed air to work much like human fingers.

An actuator also can be powered by electricity or hydraulics.

Much like there are air cylinders, there also are electric cylinders and hydraulic cylinders in which the cylinder converts electricity or hydraulics into motion. Hydraulic cylinders, which use liquids, are often found in certain types of vehicles.

Many actuators have more than one type of power source.

Types of Motion

Actuators can create a linear motion, rotary motion or oscillatory motion.

That is, they can create motion in one direction, in a circular motion or in opposite directions at regular intervals.

Types of actuators

  • hydraulic actuator is a hydraulic cylinder or hydraulic motor that converts hydraulic power into useful mechanical work; the mechanical motion produced may be linear, rotary, or oscillatory.
  • An electric actuator is a type of motor that is responsible for moving or controlling a mechanism or system.
    It is operated by a source of energy, typically electric current, hydraulic fluid pressure, or pneumatic pressure, and converts that energy into motion. An actuator is a 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.