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What is an Actuator? Types, Principles, and Applications

Posted:10:43 AM December 25, 2023 writer: iotbyhvm


An actuator can work as a mechanical or electro-mechanical tool transforming energy, usually in the form of electricity, hydraulics, or pneumatics, into regulated motion or force. Many different systems use these devices, enabling them to precisely control and move things. Actuators react to signals or changes in the environment, working in all sorts of jobs and industries. Discover the world of actuator in this insightful article, "What is an Actuator? Types, Principles, and Applications." Uncover the essential components driving modern technology, exploring various types, the principles governing their operation, and their diverse applications across industries.

What is an Actuator? - An actuator is a crucial component in various mechanical systems that helps convert energy into motion. It is responsible for controlling and moving mechanisms or systems, enabling them to perform specific tasks or functions. A wide range of applications commonly uses actuators, from industrial machinery to everyday consumer products. They play a huge role in automation, robotics, aerospace, automotive, and many other industries. There are different types of actuators, each designed for specific purposes and operating principles. Some common types include Electric actuators, Pneumatic actuators, Hydraulic actuators, Linear actuator application, Rotatry actuator. Actuators are typically controlled by a control system, which can be manual, automatic, or computer-controlled. They receive signals or commands from the control system and convert them into the desired mechanical motion.

Energy Source

Actuators depend on various energy sources to power their movements and functions. These energy sources can be broadly categorized into electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic systems. Electrical actuators convert electrical energy into motion, commonly seen in motors and solenoids. Hydraulic actuators utilize fluid power, typically oil or water, to generate motion, making them suitable for heavy-duty applications. Pneumatic actuators use compressed air to drive motion and are often chosen for applications requiring rapid and dynamic movements. The selection of the energy source depends on the specific requirements of the application, considering factors such as precision, force, speed, and environmental conditions.

Actuators Sources of Energy Actuators Sources of Energy

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Power converter

Power Converter is the translator for your actuator. It takes the energy your actuator needs from its source and transforms it into a form the actuator can understand and use. For electrical actuators, the power converter changes electrical energy so that the actuator can move precisely. It might adjust the voltage or control the frequency to make everything work smoothly. In hydraulic actuators, which use liquid power, the power converter regulates and adjusts the pressure of the liquid to ensure the actuator moves just the way it should. Pneumatic actuators, which rely on compressed air, also need power converters. These converters manage the air's pressure and flow, making sure the actuator responds quickly and accurately. Even electro-mechanical actuators benefit from power converters. They help change rotational energy into the straight-line movement needed for specific tasks.

Block Diagram of Actuator Block Diagram of Actuator


For electrical workers, The controller plays an integral role beyond just facilitating the functionality of the power converter; it also assumes the responsibility of generating essential actuating electrical and control signals. This multifaceted component not only ensures the smooth operation of the power converter but also serves as a central link between the user and the system. In certain configurations, the control unit goes a step further by offering a user-friendly interface. This interface allows users to input commands or inquiries, providing them with a means to actively participate in monitoring the system's status and influencing its performance. Thus, the controller stands as a central element, coordinating the intricate interaction between the power converter and user engagement, thereby enhancing the overall efficiency and usability of the system.


The term "load" refers to the resistance or force that an actuator encounters during its operation. Actuators are designed to move loads, and comprehending the nature of these loads is crucial for optimal performance. In simple terms, the load is the object or mechanism that the actuater is meant to manipulate, lift, push, or control. It can range from the weight a hydraulic actuator lifts in an industrial setting to the resistance a pneumatic actuator overcomes in a dynamic motion task. The interaction between the actuators and the load is akin to a delicate motion, where the actuator's power and precision must align with the specific demands of the load. Electro-mechanical actuators, for instance, might encounter loads that resist their movement, requiring careful engineering to ensure smooth operation.

Classification of actuators based on the motion

The primary and fundamental categorization of actuators is determined by the specific kind of motion they generate. Here are the detailed classification of actuators based on the motion :

Rotary Actuator

Rotary Actuator 

Rotary Actuator

Actuators that are capable of producing circular motion are known as rotary actuators. When considering rotational movement, it's challenging to envision any other device besides motors. This special device is really good at doing tasks that involve things turning around. It's like the turning part in a big machine, smoothly doing jobs that need circular motion. Rotary Actuator is that it can fit into many different situations. It works in factories, helping control how things are positioned, and in robots, making sure their arms or hands move just right.

Linear Actuators

Linear actuators are devices that convert energy into straight-line or linear motion. They play a big role in various applications, such as robotics, automation, and manufacturing. Linear actuators are used to push, pull, lift, or position objects, providing precision and control in various industries. where linear movement is essential for operational efficiency. The Linear Actuator application works like a magic wand, turning round movements into straight-line motion with super accuracy. This special ability makes it really important in lots of areas, like making things in factories, moving robots, and even in medical and car stuff.


Linear Actuators

Classification of actuators based on the energy source

Actuators are like the conductors of controlled motion, and they come in various types depending on where they get their energy. Consider it as a varied family, where each member utilizes a distinct source of power for their specific tasks. Here are classification of actuators based on the energy source -

Electromagnetic Actuators

Electromagnetic actuators are devices that convert electrical energy into mechanical motion. Electric motors generate force and transfer it through gears, screws, or other mechanisms to create linear or rotary movement. Electromagnetic actuators are commonly used in robots, aircraft, factories, and even medical equipment, these accuators offer precise control, fast response times, and clean operation. They're also becoming increasingly popular due to their energy efficiency and ease of maintenance.

Electro magnetic Actuator 

Electromagnetic Actuator

AC and DC Servo Motor actuators

AC and DC Servo Motor Actuators AC and DC Servo Motor Actuators

Both AC and DC servo motor actuators are high-powered devices that convert electrical signals into controlled mechanical movement. AC servo motors excel in high-speed applications, while DC servo motors offer precise position control. Widely employed in robotics and automation, they enhance the efficiency and accuracy of various mechanical systems with their tailored capabilities

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AC Servo Motors:

  1. High power and speed: Perfect for industrial robots, CNC machines, and high-performance jobs.
  2. Ruggedness and reliability: Tough and durable, needing little maintenance.
  3. Compact size: Small but mighty, delivering impressive power.

DC Servo Motors:

  1. Smooth, accurate positioning: Ideal for medical equipment, drones, and precise robotics.
  2. Fast response times: Quick to react for dynamic applications.
  3. Wide-ranging torque/speed control: Adaptable to various needs, from delicate moves to forceful tasks.

Stepper Motor Actuators

Stepper motor actuators are like the architects of controlled motion. Operating in discrete steps, these motors convert electrical pulses into precise mechanical movement. Renowned for simplicity, reliability, and cost-effectiveness, they find applications in robotics, 3D printers, and automation systems, executing tasks with accuracy and repeatability. Stepper motors work with pre-set steps, offering benefits like accurate control, a simple design without constant feedback, and stability even without power. While they may not be as fast or smooth as DC and AC servos, stepper motors are perfect for jobs that need careful, step-by-step control.

Solenoid Actuators

Solenoid actuators are the energetic pushers in the world of motion control. These devices convert electrical energy into mechanical force, utilizing the magnetic field generated by an energized coil. Commonly found in applications like door locks, hayward actuator valve, and automotive systems, solenoid actuators deliver rapid and reliable linear movement for diverse industrial and consumer applications. A solenoid actuator comprises a coil wound around a ferromagnetic core, featuring a flat head and a connected spring. Housed in a hollow cylindrical body, when an electric current flows through the wire, the coil turns into an electromagnet, pulling the ferromagnetic core in one direction and compressing the spring.

Fluid Power Actuators

Actuators utilizing liquids or gases are known as fluid power actuators. Fluid power actuators are devices that utilize liquids or gases to generate mechanical motion. Imagine a basic setup— a moving disk inside a cylinder filled with fluid, acting like a piston. The disk's motion mirrors the actuator's movement. Advanced fluid actuators, equipped with dual-acting cylinders, use fluid for both pushing out and pulling back actions, adding a layer of sophistication to their functionality.

Hydraulic Actuators

Hydraulic actuators are mechanisms that use liquid, typically oil, to generate controlled mechanical movement. It's like a piston inside a cylinder filled with hydraulic fluid. When pressure is applied, the fluid pushes the piston, creating linear motion. Hydraulic actuators find wide applications in various industries due to their ability to provide powerful and precise movement, making them essential components in machinery, construction equipment, and industrial systems.

Pneumatic Actuators

Pneumatic actuators are devices that use compressed air to produce controlled mechanical motion. In these types of actuators air pressure acts on a piston, causing it to move. This movement can be utilized for various applications, from opening and closing hayward actuator valve to driving machinery. Pneumatic actuators are valued for their simplicity, quick response times, and suitability for tasks that require less force compared to hydraulic systems.

The fundamental principle behind pneumatic actuators involves the controlled application of compressed air to generate motion. When pressurized air is directed into the actuators, it creates force differentials that drive linear or rotary movement. This inherent responsiveness makes pneumatic actuators ideal for tasks where quick and dynamic motion is paramount.

Mechanical Actuators

Mechanical Actuator 

Mechanical Actuator

Mechanical actuators are devices that convert some form of input energy, often rotary motion, into controlled mechanical movement. These actuators use gears, cams, levers, or other electro-mechanical actuators components to achieve precise motion or force. Mechanical actuators are versatile and find applications in various systems, including machinery, robotics, and automotive mechanisms, providing reliable and straightforward solutions for controlled motion.

Thermal Actuators

Thermal actuators are devices that utilize temperature-induced changes to generate mechanical movement. Typically, they rely on materials with specific thermal properties, such as shape memory alloys or bimetallic strips. As the temperature changes, these materials undergo transformations, causing the actuator to move or deform. Thermal actuators are used in applications like temperature-sensitive valves and switches, offering a responsive and efficient approach to controlled motion based on temperature variations

Special Actuators

In the large variety of controlled motion, Special actuators are like groundbreaking innovators, exploring new horizons beyond regular actuation methods. These special actuators represent the forefront of technological innovation, addressing niche requirements across industries. Their unconventional mechanisms and unique properties open doors to a new era of possibilities, defining the cutting edge of controlled motion in diverse and specialized fields.

Piezoelectric Actuators

Piezoelectric Actuator 

Piezoelectric Actuator

Piezoelectric actuators are devices that use the piezoelectric effect to generate mechanical motion. When an electric field is applied to certain materials, like piezoceramics, they deform or change shape. This property allows piezoelectric actuators to produce precise and rapid movements, making them valuable in applications such as nano positioning, optics, and precise positioning systems. Their ability to respond quickly and with high precision distinguishes them in scenarios where fine control and accuracy are essential.

Shape Memory Alloy Actuators

Shape memory alloy (SMA) actuators are devices that leverage the unique properties of certain alloys, such as Nitinol. These alloys can "remember" a particular shape and return to it when subjected to a specific stimulus, often a change in temperature. This characteristic allows SMA actuators to exhibit shape-changing behavior, making them suitable for applications like robotics, medical devices, and aerospace, where compact and lightweight actuators with shape-morphing capabilities are beneficial.

Supercoiled Polymer Actuators

Supercoiled polymer actuators are made from special polymers that are twisted into a helical shape. This unique structure allows them to store and release energy, enabling them to move and perform mechanical work. When a stimulus, such as heat, light, or a chemical reaction, is applied to the material, it triggers a change in its conformation, causing it to contract or expand. Supercoiled Polymer actuator able to generate large amounts of force and movement. This makes them suitable for applications such as robotics, medical devices, and smart textiles. Some actuators' examples, they can be used to create artificial muscles that mimic the movement and flexibility of real muscles.

Hydrogel actuators

Hydrogel actuators are revolutionizing the field of soft robotics, offering a promising future for the development of robotic systems. These innovative materials have the ability to mimic the movement and flexibility of natural muscles, making them ideal for a wide range of applications. Hydrogel actuators respond to changes in environmental conditions, such as temperature, pH, or light. This makes them highly responsive and adaptable, allowing for precise control and manipulation. Additionally, their soft and flexible nature makes them safer to interact with humans, making them ideal for applications in healthcare and prosthetics.

Actuator Performance Metrics

Actuators are essential components in various mechanical systems, enabling the conversion of energy into motion. From industrial machinery to robotics, actuators play a huge role in ensuring precise and reliable movement. To evaluate their performance, several metrics are used to assess actuator performance metrics, effectiveness and efficiency.

  • Response Time : The response time measures how quickly an actuator can react to a control signal and initiate the desired movement. It is crucial in applications where speed and accuracy are critical, such as in robotics or automated systems. A fast response time ensures minimal delays and enhances overall system actuator performance metrics.
  • Accuracy : Accuracy refers to the actuator's ability to achieve the desired position or motion accurately. It is typically measured in terms of positional error or repeatability. Highly accurate Actuators are essential in applications that require precise positioning or control, such as in medical devices or aerospace systems.
  • Force or Torque Output : The force or torque output of an actuator determines its ability to exert the required amount of force or rotational power. It is a critical metric in applications that involve heavy loads or require significant force, such as in industrial machinery or construction equipment.
  • Power Consumption : Power consumption is an essential performance metric, especially in applications that prioritize energy efficiency. Actuators that consume less power can contribute to overall system efficiency and reduce operational costs.
  • Durability and Reliability : Actuators must be durable and reliable to withstand the demands of their intended applications. Metrics such as mean time between failures (MTBF) and lifespan help assess an actuator reliability. High-quality actuators can provide long-lasting performance, reducing maintenance requirements and improving productivity.

Actuator Control Systems

Actuator control systems utilize sensors and feedback mechanisms to constantly monitor and adjust the actuator's position, speed, and force. These systems receive input signals, process them, and transmit output signals to guide the actuator's motion. To ensure optimal performance, feedback mechanisms are often integrated to continually monitor the actuator position and adjust as needed in real-time. Various control systems are employed with actuators, each with distinct advantages and drawbacks based on specific application needs.

  1. Open-Loop Control Systems: These systems operate without feedback, relying on predetermined commands to control the actuator. While simpler and more cost-effective, open-loop systems may sacrifice accuracy and adaptability to changes in the system or environment.
  2. Closed-Loop Control Systems: Closed-loop systems incorporate feedback mechanisms to monitor the actuator's position, enabling real-time adjustments for precise control. Though more accurate and adaptable, closed-loop systems can be more intricate and costly.
  3. Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) Controllers: PID controllers, a common type of closed-loop system, utilize proportional, integral, and derivative control actions to minimize the error between desired and actual actuator positions. This approach ensures precise control and rapid response to environmental changes.
  4. Model-Based Control Systems: Model-based control systems leverage mathematical models of the actuator and its surroundings to predict and optimize performance. While highly accurate and adaptable, these systems may demand substantial computational resources and expertise for development and implementation.

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Actuator Applications

Actuators have a wide range of applications across industries, enabling precise and controlled movement in various systems and components. Industries extensively use actuators in industrial automation to control and operate various machinery and equipment. They employ actuators in robotic arms, conveyor systems, hayward actuator valves, and pumps, among others. Actuators enable precise and efficient movement, enhancing productivity and reducing human effort. In the aerospace and defense sectors, actuators are essential for controlling aircraft components, such as flaps, landing gear, and control surfaces.

Automotive Industry

In the world of automotive engineering, actuators transform technological advancements into tangible motion. From the precision of actuators in engine control systems to the finesse of those managing braking mechanisms, these devices are the silent conductors of vehicular performance.

Engine Actuators: Actuator in the engine control system regulate various functions, optimizing fuel injection, adjusting valve timing, and controlling exhaust emissions.

Transmission Actuators: In automatic transmissions, actuators govern gear shifts, optimizing torque delivery to the wheels. The seamless transition between gears enhances driving comfort and efficiency.

Braking System Actuators: Actuators are integral to advanced braking systems, ensuring precise control of braking force distribution, enhancing safety. Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) rely on actuators for dynamic response in diverse driving conditions.

Throttle Actuators: Electronic throttle control systems utilize actuators to manage the opening and closing of the throttle hayward actuator valve, providing precise control over engine power and responsiveness.

HVAC Actuators: Climate control systems incorporate actuators for adjusting vents and regulating temperature, offering personalized comfort to occupants.

Aerospace Industry

In Aerospace Industry, actuators surface, directing the subtle motions and precision necessary for the intricate dynamics of flight. From controlling the surfaces of an aircraft to managing critical systems, Actuators function as the silent conductors molding the path of aerospace technology.

Flight Control Actuators: These devices govern the ailerons, elevators, and rudders, translating pilot commands into controlled movements that ensure stability, responsiveness, and safe navigation through the skies.

Landing Gear Actuators: Actuators manage the controlled extension and retraction of landing gear. These mechanisms provide the reliability and precision needed during takeoff and landing, contributing to the safety of every flight.

Thrust Reverser Actuators: Actuators help in deployment of thrust reversers, optimizing braking efficiency upon landing. This enhances safety and reduces runway distances required for aircraft deceleration.

Aircraft Systems Actuators: Beyond flight control, actuators regulate various aircraft systems. From adjusting wing flaps to managing cargo doors, these devices ensure the seamless operation of critical components throughout the flight.

Medical Industry

Actuators are like secret helpers in medical devices, making them precise and controlled. Here are some actuators examples which help in improving medical technology or medical industry, from diagnosing to treating patients, and help make healthcare better.

Diagnostic Imaging Actuators: In diagnostic imaging devices like MRI and CT scanners, actuators facilitate precise movements essential for capturing detailed images.

Surgical Robotics Actuators: The advent of surgical robotics has revolutionized procedures, with actuators powering the articulated movements of robotic arms.

Prosthetics and Exoskeletons: Actuators form the electro-mechanical actuators core of prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons, mimicking natural movements and restoring mobility for individuals with limb loss or mobility impairments.

Drug Delivery Systems Actuators: Actuators are crucial in precision drug delivery systems, ensuring controlled release mechanisms that optimize therapeutic outcomes while minimizing side effects.

Industrial Automation

In Industrial automation, actuators emerge as indispensable elements, driving the transformation of manual processes into streamlined, efficient, and intelligent workflows.

Robotic Arm Actuators: These devices allow for the articulation and controlled movements required for tasks ranging from assembly and welding to intricate material handling.

Conveyor System Actuators: Actuators optimize the functionality of conveyor systems, enabling precise control over the movement of goods along production lines.

Valve Control Actuators: In factories, actuators are like controllers that open and close valves to manage liquids and gases. This helps keep industrial processes running smoothly and safely.

Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) Actuators: In warehouses and factories, AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) move stuff around, and actuators are what make them go where they need to. Actuators help these vehicles steer and move just right, making things like shipping and handling goods easier and less hands-on.

Actuator Selection Criteria

The choice of actuators is a critical decision in designing controlled motion systems, influencing the precision, efficiency, and reliability of diverse applications. Several key criteria guide the selection process, ensuring that the chosen actuators align with the specific requirements and objectives of the system.

1. Precision and Accuracy: The level of precision needed for a particular application dictates the choice of actuators. Systems requiring high accuracy, such as robotics or medical devices, benefit from actuators with fine resolution and minimal backlash.

2. Speed and Response Time: In some situations where things need to happen fast, like in factories or automated processes, we need actuators. These are like quick movers that respond rapidly, making sure things happen exactly as they should.

3. Force and Load Capacity: The force exerted by an actuator and its load-bearing capacity are crucial considerations. Industrial applications often require actuators capable of handling substantial loads, ensuring the reliability and durability of the system.

4. Environmental Considerations: Factors like temperature, humidity, and exposure to harsh conditions influence acuator performance. Selecting actuators with suitable protection measures ensures their longevity and effectiveness in various environments.

5. Energy Efficiency: The energy consumption of actuators plays a role in both operational costs and sustainability. Opting for energy-efficient actuators contributes to the overall efficiency of the system and aligns with modern sustainability goals.

6. Size and Form Factor: The physical dimensions of actuators influence the integration possibilities within a system. People prefer compact and lightweight actuators in applications where space constraints are a consideration, such as in aerospace or medical devices.

7. Cost and Life Cycle Considerations: Balancing performance requirements with budget constraints is crucial. Actuators with an optimal balance of cost-effectiveness and a long lifecycle contribute to the economic viability of the controlled motion system.


In conclusion, this exploration of what is an actuator? or what does an actuator do? and different types of actuators, principles, and different applications across industries. Covering a range of energy sources and define actuator classifications based on motion and energy, the article outlines various actuator types, from electromagnetic and fluid power actuators to special ones like piezoelectric and shape memory alloy actuators. The discussion extends to performance metrics, define actuator control systems, and applications in automotive, aerospace, medical, and industrial sectors. We discussed the importance of thoughtful acuwater selection based on criteria outlined in the selection process. For engineers and designers (those who make things), it's very important to understand how actuators work - types of actuators, how well they perform, and what to think about when picking one. This helps make sure things work great, are efficient, and don't break down.

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