Linear Actuator Uses: Common Applications

Linear actuators offer a cost-effective solution to move loads in a straight line. The device comes in multiple forms, ranging from telescoping to twisted and coiled. You may be wondering, “What are the uses for a linear actuator?” Here are nine of the most common uses for a linear actuator to help you make the most of this invaluable tool.

What Is a Linear Actuator?

A linear actuator changes the rotational motion of a motor into a straight line. Conventional electric motors move in a circle, while linear actuators move forward and backward. The push and pull action allows the device to slide, tip, and lift items with the push of a button.

The design provides operators accurate and precise control over the production. The fluid movement means the linear actuator requires minimal maintenance over its lifespan and comes with natural energy efficiency. They are easier to install than their hydraulic or pneumatic counterparts, cost less, and take up significantly less room.

Electric Motorized Linear Actuators

When to Use a Linear Actuator

Manufacturers leverage linear actuators in tools and industrial machines, such as printers, sprayers, computers, and valves. Choosing an actuator depends on the product, with hydraulic actuators powering hydraulic car jacks and pneumatic actuators often powering pistons and ignition chambers. Each of these devices offers an affordable, repeatable, and consistent motion because of the integration.

Most Common Uses for Linear Actuator

Material Handling

The many uses for a linear actuator have improved automation in the workplace. It streamlines manufacturing while lowering the cost of production. The electric linear actuators have transformed into a vital and necessary tool to achieve optimal material handling.

Linear actuators are responsible for moving loads from point A to point B. The electromechanical version has the added ability to stop the movement mid-stroke. Some of the other types of actuators in material handling include industrial, high-speed, and micro models.

Linear actuators enable safe, secure, and precise motion, primarily when operators use them in conjunction with sensors or other smart technologies. The combination allows workers to complete previously repetitive tasks with minimal manual intervention.

Some of the visible applications include sorting machines, feed systems, and clamps. One example is using pneumatic actuators along with conveyor belts. An electric actuator provides greater efficiency because it doesn’t slow down the control capabilities.

Robotics

Linear actuators make movement possible in robots. They allow robotic machinery to interact with its environment through wheels, clamps, arms, and legs. Some of the most popular linear actuators to get robots moving include:

  • Motorized threaded rods
  • Pneumatic cylinders
  • Scotch yokes
  • Solenoids
  • Pneumatic muscles

Imagine that a robotic arm has a gripper on the end. When the operator presses a button, a sensor communicates to the arm to clasp the box in position A. The clamp secures the package and moves it to position B, before releasing the box onto the conveyor belt or desired work surface.

The gripping mechanism works because of the linear actuator. It talks to the smart technology when the clamp reaches the appropriate constraints and maintains it, so the package doesn’t drop or shift during transit. A linear actuator presents a more consistent and reliable option than a hydraulic actuator, which uses hydraulic fluid for movement and control.

Food and Beverage Manufacturing

The industrial-scale of today’s food and beverage industry requires high levels of automation to meet demand. Manufacturers must streamline processing, treatment, packaging, and other processes to ensure timely distribution. Linear actuators play a crucial role in making these actions possible.

Each type of linear actuator has a distinct role in automation. Rod-style models clean production areas, which makes them a premier choice for dairy and beverage plants. Electric rod-style linear actuators offer versatility, thanks to multiple profile options, which makes them ideal for different types of food production tools.

Linear actuators improve efficiency while maintaining a sanitized environment, reducing the odds of contamination. Visit a food production facility, and actuators are visible in meat separators, toasters, de-boning devices, and food processors. They also exist in ubiquitous appliances, like conveyors and pouch machines.

Window Automation

Adjusting a window at ground level is straightforward but can be extremely difficult when it’s out of reach. The solution: linear actuators. They offer a practical solution that lets people easily open and close windows and enjoy the comforts of modern living.

Window automation marks one of the most common uses of a large linear actuator, also known as a push-rod motor. The device quietly and conveniently contracts or extends, even in extreme heat and cold. The best odds of seeing a large linear actuator at work in window automation include:

  • Shutters
  • Skylights
  • Casement windows
  • Top or bottom hung windows

The wide range of uses means linear actuators are visible in everything, from workshops to warehouses to waiting halls. A single installation replaces the need for manual operation while improving overall ventilation and airflow. A linear actuator also centralizes the control panel instead of having several different places. 

Agricultural Machinery

Modern agricultural machinery has never been more reliable, in part, because of linear actuators. The devices assist farmers, workers, and other laborers in completing various agricultural tasks, on top of withstanding harsh weather conditions and exposure to herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers.

Ground zero for linear actuators is in the fields. They give operators control for the height and angle of sprayers for thorough and consistent coverage. Actuators can aid in opening and closing hatches while simplifying the mechanisms to operate machinery. 

Linear actuators exist inside tractors to improve work quality and reduce labor. An actuator ensures accurate steering wheel adjustments, toggles ventilation, and adjusts the rearview windows into the correct operating position. The straightforward integrations mean operators increase control of their tractors without sacrificing performance.

Many of these same mechanisms apply to seed drills and combine harvesters. Drills require pinpoint accuracy when planting seeds, so farmers can improve land usage and minimize waste. Combine harvesters benefit from seamless functionality through the integration of linear actuators in grain tank extensions, grain tank covers, and concave adjustments.

Solar Panel Operation

The push for alternative energy sources has coincided with an uptick in solar panel usage. Conventional panels use hydraulics or other similar devices, but recent innovations have made harnessing the sun’s power more efficient. Electric linear actuators give panels the ability to track the sun, moving with the sunlight to maximize the amount of direct absorption.

Installing linear actuators provides solar panel users the most bang for their buck. The useful machines absorb more solar energy while withstanding the hot and harsh working environment. Linear actuators can even withstand high-pressure jets, debris, and dust.

Cutting Equipment

Machines spare humans from as much danger as possible when cutting. They take over repetitive tasks or risky assignments that require more endurance and power than creative prowess. Linear actuators power these machines to ensure accurate cuts with every slice.

Common uses for a large linear actuator include wood, glass, metal, and paper cutting devices. The blade can cut straight lines or jigsaw patterns, based on the actuator’s configuration. The same applies to metal cutting, which requires copious mechanical strength.

Cleanliness stands out as one of the overlooked benefits of linear actuators in a cutting environment. Many people associate the desire for automated sanitation with food and beverage processing. The crisp cuts reduce the amount of debris and waste that can otherwise interfere with production.

Valve Operation

Today’s industry would not be possible without linear valve actuators turning electric, pneumatic, and hydraulic energy into a push and pull motion. The cost-effective product offers an attractive alternative to manual operation. It operates with a range of rising stem valves with optional features for integrated control.

The two primary models are diaphragm and piston actuators. The diaphragm version contains a section of rubber than encircles the edges of a cylinder or chamber. A connective rod at the center of the diaphragm moves whenever the device receives pressure, making it ideal for a low-pressure environment. 

Piston actuators contain a piston that moves along the cylinder’s body. The rod translates force on the piston to the valve, which leads to opening and closing. Piston actuators can withstand higher pressure workloads, travel further, and have more substantial thrust than diaphragm actuators.

Non-Industrial Applications

The most common uses for a linear actuator lie in industrial automation, but those are far from the only applications. The device has become increasingly popular in residential settings where counterparts, like hydraulic and pneumatic actuators, are not feasible. Many people use linear actuators for automation as a way to create more space in a compact home.

The Bottom Line

Linear actuators are an essential part of day-to-day life, whether you want to prop open your windows or simplify agricultural labor. The simple yet effective mechanics allows operators to transform manual functions into automated ones. The wide range of linear actuator uses makes it a must-have device, regardless of industry.

Creative Motion Control connects customers with the leading linear motion control products they need. Our team works with clients in engineering, manufacturing, sales, and other fields to ensure they conquer whatever challenges they face. Check out our catalogs to learn more about how Creative Motional Control can assist you.

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