How Linear Actuators Work?

Actuators are the movers of countless machines and systems, serving to convert control signals into mechanical motion so that various processes may be carried out with ease. Actuators can come in a number of variations, linear actuators being a common category that encompasses components that are capable of moving an object or equipment piece in a straight line. While simplistic, linear actuators enable the functionality of countless systems ranging from home printers to robotics. In this blog, we will discuss the design, capabilities, and common types of linear actuators, allowing you to best understand their importance across numerous industries and applications.

While all linear actuators provide the same result of linear action, the way in which they carry out such processes will differ based on their type. Mechanical actuators convert rotary motion into linear motion, often taking advantage of simplistic mechanisms such as screws, wheels and axles, and cams. A ball screw actuator is a common form of mechanical linear actuator, utilizing a threaded shaft, helical raceway, and ball bearings to act as a precision screw. With high precision and low friction, such actuators are often paired with stepper or servo motors to convert rotary motion for the benefit of machine tools, medical systems, scientific instruments, and much more.

Hydraulic actuators, meanwhile, utilize the incompressibility of fluids to transmit great amounts of force when activated. To do this, hydraulic actuators often feature a hollow cylinder with an internal piston, the piston being used to drive an external object through controlled and precise linear displacement. Pneumatic actuators are fairly similar, albeit using compressed air instead of liquids. Unlike hydraulic actuators, pneumatic actuators are rarely used for heavy-duty machinery, rather finding use in mechanical activities due to air being their input source.

Electromechanical actuators are also a popular choice, featuring operations that are similar to mechanical types while replacing the control knob or handle with a motor. Electromechanical actuators often serve to convert rotary motion into linear displacement, though they are also commonly implemented in systems where they are used to power a motor for the conversion of electrical energy into torque. Such actuator types come in a number of forms, the belt actuator being a common example. A belt actuator is a type of actuator where a belt is connected to a moving carriage that is pulled as the belt rotates, the assembly being carried between two pulleys.

Lead screw actuators are another common linear actuator that converts rotary motion into linear motion with the assistance of a motor. For the supply of rotary motion, either a manually driven screw or an AC induction motor can be used, allowing such actuators to be suitable for low cost and low precision applications. As compared to ball screw actuators, lead screw actuators are not as capable of providing back drive due to the lower efficiency of their screw or nut. Generally, lead screw actuators find use for applications related to manual lift systems and agricultural equipment.

Whether you need linear actuators that are mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, or electromechanical in operation, NSN Sphere has you covered with our expansive part inventory. NSN Sphere is a trusted distributor for aircraft parts, offering customers new, used, obsolete, and hard-to-find items that have been sourced from leading global manufacturers that we trust. Due to our unfaltering efforts in maintaining quality control that far surpasses industry standards, we proudly operate with AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 00-56B certification and accreditation. If there are particular items on our website that you are interested in, fill out and submit an RFQ form to receive a personalized quote for your comparisons. Get started today and see why customers continue to rely on NSN Sphere for all their operational needs.


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