Actuators, since their invention in 1938, have come a long way. They’re still involved in lifting, adjusting, and sliding applications. But they’re also currently prevalent in hi-tech industries like automation and robotics.
In truth, the job linear actuators handle fits the robotics and automation industry. You can count over a thousand applications where these devices are pivotal in the industry. We’ll discuss all about it in this post.
Applications of Linear Actuators in Robotics and Automation
If you’re not aware, there are over 3.5 million robot units in the world today. As for automation systems, the amount is innumerable. So, saying linear actuators have over a thousand applications in the robotics and automation industry isn’t an overstatement.
But we can’t mention all. So, here are the most common applications:
Modern prosthetics are saving lives and helping people live better. But before now, they weren’t much versatile. That changed with linear actuators. Today’s prosthetics are more functional and flexible. One reason is that they feature micro linear actuators that fit into the smallest spaces.
Take a prosthetic hand, for example. It was challenging, before now, to move the finger MCP joints. At the moment, micro linear actuators ease MCP joints’ movements. Also, it supports moving the proximal, middle, and distal joints.
A lot of automation and robotic systems are in the aerospace field. And linear actuators are useful for operating these systems. They’re commonplace in planes and even rockets and space stations.
Less information is available on classified tech the aerospace industry uses. So, the systems that house linear actuators aren’t easy to identify. But from available info, examples are ventilation, lever control, and product testing. They’re also applied in training devices and flight simulators to control movement.
Drones are becoming a regular sight in cities. One thing is sure: without linear actuators, they won’t be as efficient as they currently are. Drones are not only for fun. They’re helpful for photography, sightseeing, research, delivery, and even military purposes.
Modern drones feature cameras, landing gears, and arms, among other parts. As a result, these flying devices do a lot of turning, spinning, and grasping. Linear actuators — particularly micro ones — help make this seamless.
In contemporary manufacturing settings, it’s possible to find more robots than humans. Whether this is good or bad for society is debatable. What isn’t debatable is that linear actuators help ease the tasks the robots perform.
Some manufacturing robots and machines need to operate super fast. And that’s actualized with the help of high-force and high-speed linear actuators.
The robotic industry is also finding its way into classrooms. Tech experts are programming robots to teach students. And these bots use linear actuators for movement.
Besides bots, some classrooms come with many automation systems. They feature projectors, cameras, and other automation systems that rely on actuators.
Types of Linear Actuators Used in Robotics and Automation
We’ve established linear actuators as indispensable in robotics and automation. The many applications speak for themselves. But it’s important to note that some types are paramount in the said applications. They include:
This type of linear actuator relies on hydraulics, as its name suggests. They’re number one for high-force applications since hydraulics handle high pressure. Also, hydraulic linear actuators are accurate and easy to control.
Hydraulic linear actuators are common in aerospace and manufacturing, among other applications. With this, it’s not surprising that they’re expensive to buy and maintain.
Pneumatic linear actuators are usually employed as an alternative to the hydraulic type. As a result, they’re common in aerospace and manufacturing applications, too. They operate using pressurized gas or air and are more affordable.
Another advantage of this actuator type is its environmental friendliness. But they won’t handle robotics and automation applications that demand much pressure. They’re also less accurate than hydraulic options. And by extension, that makes them less efficient.
Electric/Electromechanical Linear Actuators
Electric linear actuators are the type you’ll find in drones and prosthetics. You most likely guessed they use electrical power, and that’s correct. However, most drones and prosthetic systems use batteries and motors. Such automation systems come with an electromechanical linear actuator.
Electric and electromechanical linear actuators have substantial advantages. To start with, they’re precise and easy to network. They allow immediate feedback, helping robots like drones and prosthetics to function correctly. Also, they support a low noise level. The downside is that these linear actuators cost plenty.
How to Choose a Linear Actuator for Robotics or Automation Project
As explained, different linear actuators work for robotics and automation. For this reason, you should pay close attention when selecting one for your project. Here are some aspects to focus on:
- Load: you must first consider what the linear actuator will move. Is it a heavy robot or a lightweight prosthetic arm? Whichever, ensure the actuator has enough capacity to hold the load without breaking down.
- Speed: some automation systems and robots operate slowly, while others move fast. It’s essential that your linear actuator can handle the speed requirement of your project. Otherwise, it’ll fall short in terms of accuracy and efficiency.
- Stroke length: this refers to the end-to-end distance the linear actuator will cover. For instance, an actuator installed in a drone will travel a shorter distance compared to one in a lever control system. So, supposing your project is a drone, a short stroke length would suffice.
- Power source: You must consider how the actuator gets the energy to operate the robot or automation system. Generally, electric and digital linear actuators are the norm in this application. It’s difficult to see a robot using pneumatic or hydraulic power. And if it’s mechanical power, it can’t be a robot or automation device in the first place.
Linear actuators are more or less fundamental in many robotics and automation systems. They serve in prosthetics and in aerospace, manufacturing, and even education sectors. Different types of linear actuators work for robotics and automation. You must consider the type when selecting one for your project. Also, consider the load, speed, stroke, and accuracy.