All About Linear Actuators: The Simple Guide

As you prepare to get started on your project, you may be wondering what type of linear actuator you need and what a linear actuator will do. Unfortunately, most of the information out there is written in technical terms that make it near impossible for the non-engineers of this world to understand linear actuators fully. You know what they do in terms of movement; after all, you know your project needs a linear actuator, but you aren’t quite sure of how they work which can make it difficult to find the best linear actuator for your project.

In this article, we break down the technical terms and explain linear actuators in simple terms so everyone can understand how to harness the benefits they offer.


What are Linear Actuators?

Actuators can be described as a device that moves an object. Linear actuators, specifically, move objects in a back-and-forth motion, whether side to side or up and down. In comparisons, other actuators make rotary movements or repetitive movements. Think TV lifts and sit stand desks – linear actuators move the TV or desk up and down. Linear actuators make these movements by turning rotation motion into linear motion by creating torque (a measurement of force).


What Are the Different Types of Linear Actuators?

Linear actuators are used in a vast array of machines and equipment where linear motion is needed, such as TV lifts, sit stand desks, car jacks, chains, pulleys. The type of linear actuator used depends on the specific features available (and the requirements needed). To help you decide on the type you need, let’s take a look at the most common types of linear actuators:

  1. Hydraulic Actuators
  2. Mechanical Actuators
  3. Pneumatic Actuators
  4. Electric Actuators


How Do Linear Actuators Work?

How a linear actuator works depends highly on the type of linear actuator. Generally speaking, linear actuators convert rotary movements into linear movements. As for the specific way linear actuators work, that depends on the type used.


How Do Hydraulic Actuators Work

Hydraulic actuators have a hollow cylinder in which the piston moves, which is done by applying pressure in the direction needed.


How Do Mechanical Actuators Work

Mechanical actuators acquire energy through a number of means, such as a wheel and axle, which in turn, allow the actuator to move. Often times, mechanical actuators move in one direction.


How Do Pneumatic Actuators Work

Pneumatic actuators are quite similar to hydraulic actuators in the sense that they also have a hollow cylinder for the moving pistol. The difference is that the cylinder and gears are controlled with compressed gas, instead of hydraulic liquid.


How Do Electric Actuators Work

Electric actuators are quite simple actuators with fewer working parts. They run on a direct electrical current.


What are the Advantages to Different Types of Linear Actuators

Due to the different ways all types of linear actuators work to create linear motion, there are many unique advantages to each. Understanding the features and advantages offered by each type of linear actuator will help you determine which one is best for your project.


Advantages of Hydraulic Actuators

Hydraulic actuators are notable for holding force and torque constantly without having the pump supply more fluid. They’re also ideal for high-force applications, as they can produce forces 25 times greater than pneumatic actuators of the same size. They also have a high horsepower-to-weight ratio and can have the pumps and motors located in different areas with a considerable distance without losing any power.

Disadvantages of Hydraulic Actuators

The downside to hydraulic actuators is that they can be quite messy with leaking fluid, and the more fluid that leaks, the less efficient it becomes. Hydraulic actuators also have many working parts, making them larger than other options.


Advantages of Pneumatic Actuators

One of the greatest advantages of pneumatic actuators is their simplicity. They also offer incredible precision on a consistent basis. Pneumatic actuators are also recognized for the safety and inspection aspect, as they use air instead of hazardous materials which is imperative if the applications involve extreme temperatures, which many do.

Additionally, pneumatic actuators don’t create any magnetic interference due to the lack of motors, which also means they meet machine safety requirements and explosion protection.  

As an added bonus, pneumatic actuators also cost fairly less than other actuators, are lightweight, have durable components and minimal maintenance. So, if you don’t require a plethora of features and want something simple, straightforward and cost-effective, pneumatic actuators are a great choice. Better yet, they can be used in all environments, including hazardous and flammable areas.

Disadvantages of Pneumatic Actuators

In order for you to reap the full benefits of pneumatic actuators, it has to be sized for the task at hand, so they aren’t versatile by any means. The air it takes can lead to downtime and maintenance if it’s contaminated by lubrication or oil, which can be costly if you aren’t careful with the environment you use it in. Pneumatic activators also offer slower speeds and lower forces, which can be a disadvantage for some projects. On the other hand, slower, steady, lower speeds and forces can be a benefit for items such as TV lifts.


Advantages of Electrical Actuators

Electrical actuators are highly recognized for offering the highest precision-control positioning. The accuracy is impeccable, quiet, repeatable and smooth, and the setups are scalable for any purpose. Electrical actuators can also be networked and reprogrammed easily due to the immediate feedback provided for diagnostics and maintenance.

These types of electrical actuators are also quieter than other actuators, and since there are no fluid leaks, electrical actuators present no environmental hazards.

Disadvantages of Electrical Actuators

One of the biggest downsides of an electrical actuator is that the initial cost can be higher than other options. They’re also not suited for all environments, particularly those that are deemed as hazardous or flammable areas, and due to the continuously running motor, they are more prone to wear and tear.


Now that you understand everything you need to know about harnessing the power of linear actuators, it’s time to browse the largest collection. At Firgelli Automations, we carry the largest inventory of linear actuators, all of which are designed by our team of in-house engineers.

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