What do robotics, food processing, agriculture, aerospace, and medical devices have in common? There may be anywhere from a dozen to hundreds of answers to this question, but the one we're here to talk about today is a little device called a linear actuator - or, more specifically, micro linear actuators.
Used in thousands of applications across numerous industries, this little tool has more of an impact on our daily lives than you might think.
But what are micro linear actuators? How do they work? What are their uses and benefits? Read on to find the answer to all these questions and more.
A Brief History
The invention of the linear actuator is credited to a Danish businessman named Brent Jensen. As he and his friend talked about ways to easily adjust the height of his friend's wheelchair, it prompted an idea. What if there was a mechanism that could generate up-and-down motion?
After a year of development, in 1979 the prototype for an electric linear actuator came into existence. As previous motors only provided rotational movement, Jensen's invention opened up a brand-new world of possibilities for electric motion.
What are Micro Linear Actuators?
Actuators are not a topic that makes headlines or spawns blogs like artificial intelligence and machine learning, but the role that they play in our modern world is almost greater than any other device invented.
A micro linear actuator is a tiny device that changes the rotational motion of a motor to a linear (straight) motion. Electric motors generally move in a circular motion, but linear actuators can move forward and backward (or up and down, as the case may be), which gives them the ability to lift, tip, lower, or slide objects.
Its design makes it easy for operators to accurately control movement, and its compact size makes it ideal for integration across a huge variety of applications and projects. It requires very little maintenance across its lifespan, and it's naturally energy-efficient as well.
Compared to hydraulic or pneumatic devices, electric mini actuators are both smaller and more cost-efficient. Available in numerous configurations and styles, they are suited to an incredible range of industries and applications and are quickly becoming a vital device for motion control.
How Are Micro Linear Actuators Used?
Following its first use in the wheelchair, the agricultural industry was the first one to adopt the use of linear actuators. Since then, their reliability, effectiveness, and efficiency have made them indispensable in almost every industry.
The potential uses for a micro linear actuator are endless. Any application that requires linear motion but that has space or weight restrictions is a prime candidate.
Because it can push and pull with equal force, it can lift, slide, adjust, lower, or tilt other objects. From shutting the trunk of your car to opening a window, you've probably already used one today without knowing it.
Common Examples of Where Mini Actuators are Used
Micro linear actuators have revolutionized hundreds of industries and applications and have changed what we can do and how we can do it. From simplifying a process to optimizing it, and in some cases, making a process possible—it's easily the most efficient solution in its niche.
Here are just a few of the industries that use micro linear actuators.
Linear actuators perform all the key functions in robotics. From competition robots to testing, simulation, or manufacturing robots, every movement is powered by motors and actuators.
Robotic machinery interacts with its surroundings using wheels, clamps, arms, and legs. In the case of a gripper arm, an operator pressing the button triggers a sensor that communicates to the arm what it needs to do. A clamping movement keeps the package that's being lifted securely until it's released to the desired position.
This mechanism works because of the linear actuator. It communicates with the technology to reach the appropriate force and maintain it so that there is no falling or shifting during transit.
Flexibility and automation are both vital elements when it comes to packaging. Micro linear actuators present a reliable solution.
Food & Beverage Manufacturing
Our modern-day industrial-scale level of food and beverage production needs high levels of automation to keep up. To stay on top of the distribution, manufacturers have to streamline multiple processes, including treatment, packaging, and more. Without linear actuators, this level of production wouldn't be possible.
Linear actuators maximize efficiency and maintain high levels of hygiene, which minimizes the chance of microbial contamination. In any food production facility, actuators are used in toasters, de-boning devices, and food processors. They're also used in temperature-regulated ovens, blast chillers, and many more food-related applications.
Linear actuators enhance the speed and quality of automation processes like parts dispensing, assembly, and conveyance, among others.
From farm machinery and the opening of barn doors and feed gates to the activation of ventilation systems, linear actuators support agriculture by providing precise motion control and enabling the completion of processes.
In fact, modern agricultural machinery has never been more reliable and this is due, in part, to linear actuators. On top of assisting farmers and laborers with agricultural tasks, they can also withstand harsh weather conditions and exposure to herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, which makes them practically indispensable.
One of the areas actuators benefit agriculture the most is out in the fields. They provide operators with control over the height and angle of sprayers so they can achieve thorough and consistent coverage. They open and close hatches and simplify the mechanisms that operate machinery.
Inside tractors, they raise the quality of work while reducing labor. Actuators ensure accurate steering wheel adjustments, toggle ventilation, and adjust the rearview windows into the correct operating position. Simple and straightforward integrations mean operators get increased control of their tractors without sacrificing performance.
Between powering doors, windows, and vents, engine control, vehicle manufacturing and optimization, and much more, the automotive industry has many of its own uses for linear actuators.
Reclining couches, leisure beds, and anything that slides out, lifts, drops, or folds down is using a micro linear actuator.
Linear actuators are used to operate doors, adjust helms, regulate valves, and much more.
Defense & Military
Linear actuators are used in many defense and military applications, including weapon operation, transport, and logistics, among others. They help ensure safety as well as equipment performance. Other common uses are motion control and equipment automation. You'll find this component in:
- Gun positioning
- Handling of munitions
- Autonomous vehicles
- Armored plate positioning
- Remote-controlled vehicles
- Brake control
- Door automation
- Vibration control of armored vehicles
- Trailer hitching
- Cannon carriers
- Cargo airplanes
- Landing platforms
- Fighter jets
- Marine vessels
Micro linear actuators have the ability to push, pull, and hold objects in a way that humans simply cannot. Their force, speed, and precision enable them to operate in hazardous surroundings and spaces that are normally inaccessible.
There are many uses for small actuators in construction. You can find at least one in almost any moving piece of construction equipment, including steering wheels, side mirrors, doors, throttles, carry-along stairs, and hood lifts.
Linear actuators achieve pinpoint accuracy in 3D printing by providing the axial movement with high precision. As the printer is reproducing a replica of a digital image, mini actuators provide quick response time to commands and the laser-sharp positioning needed to create an accurate physical replica.
Hospitals & Medical Devices
Linear actuators are widely used in hospitals and medical devices. From adjusting and repositioning patients' beds and moving the equipment used in surgery, to diagnostic equipment such as CT scanners, MRI machines, PT scanning instruments, and much more.
The uses of micro linear actuators in the medical industry run the gamut from simple tasks to sophisticated applications that require small size, precise movement, and considerable force.
Compact Homes, Home Automation & Smart Homes
Using linear actuators to help create more space in compact homes is becoming more popular. Many of the storage and space solutions involve the use of fold-up beds, couches, or tables. All of these work using linear actuators.
When it comes to home automation, technologies like Alexa and Google Home play our music, turn the volume up or look something up on the internet for us. Actuators can actually move physical objects for us, triggered by a variety of things, such as remote controls or motion sensors.
Always wanted to see your TV popping out of your console? Or wish your chair could automatically recline? Those are just two of the ways micro linear actuators can be used.
Actuators are also responsible for bringing us a level of home interactivity we haven’t had access to before. Do you desperately want a James Bond-style secret wall or panel? You can have that now, made possible by micro linear actuators.
Benefits of Micro Linear Actuators
There is a multitude of benefits that comes with using linear actuators in applications. Some of the key ones are:
- Energy efficient
- Low operating costs
- Operates quietly
- Position control
- Position accuracy
- Very little or no maintenance required
- High value for money
Features and Characteristics
Micro linear actuators are computer-controlled and used for a wide range of motion control systems. With their small volume and stroke size of 150 mm to 1500 mm, they're extremely compact and convenient to install.
A mini linear actuator's load thrust varies between 2.25 lbs to 1,349 lbs, while the industrial version can go as high as 3,372 lbs. In electric linear actuators, the motor powers three gears: a small gear that drives the middle one, which drives a bigger gear to push the shaft. You can also find pneumatic and hydraulic versions.
How to Choose the Right Micro Linear Actuator for Your Needs
What type of micro linear actuator you need depends on your requirements. Here are some things you should consider.
- Force: How heavy is the object that needs to be moved or lifted?
- Distance: What is the distance you need the actuator to move something? Take a look at the stroke length, as that is what determines how far the linear actuator will move in one direction.
- Speed: Do you want your application to move fast or slow? Linear actuator speeds are measured in distance per second. Generally, the more force required, the slower the actuator will move. Tip: take a look at the specification sheet for a linear actuator. That will tell you the speed the actuator is rated for.
Once you know the technical specifications for your project, you can see which micro linear actuator will work for your needs. For more detailed information on the above points, check out our guide.
Our Micro Linear Actuators
As linear actuators and their uses continue to rise in popularity, a new trend of producing smaller actuators has risen as well. After all, the possibilities are endless. We at FIRGELLI® were the first manufacturer to innovate and roll out small actuators to satisfy the market demand.
Now, our mini linear actuators – made with high-grade aluminum and quality internals – are used by the aerospace industry and home hobbyists alike, covering many industries in between.
Our range of mini linear actuators has different characteristics for specific needs. Engineered for precision, but in a compact package, each one is built to last.
Micro Linear Actuators, a Summary
A micro linear actuator enables a pull-and-push or up-and-down movement in an object. Triggered by a button or a sensor, they can lift, drop, tip, or slide objects.
Micro linear actuators are used in thousands of applications across hundreds of different industries. They are considered an efficient and reliable solution in some of the most impactful industries such as farming, aerospace, and medical, as well as for personal or at-home projects.
Among their many benefits are durability, cost-efficiency, reliability, small size, low maintenance, accuracy, and control.
We hope you enjoyed reading about micro linear actuators and their uses. If you want more information on actuators, check out more of our articles here.