An actuator is a mechanical or electromechanical device for moving or controlling a mechanism or system. Any automation that involves physical movement involves some type of actuator.

Rotary actuators
Rotary actuators create motion and force along a rotary axis utilizing an externally applied energy source. Types include:

Electric motors use electrical energy to produce mechanical energy. They can be broadly classified into those operating on Alternating Current (AC) and Direct Current (DC), although there are also Universal Motors that can use either power source. Most motors involved in laboratory automation devices are DC motors of the type described below. Brushless DC motor: Brushless DC motors (BLDC) are commonly used where precise speed control is necessary. They have no chance of sparking, making them better suited to environments with volatile chemicals. They are very efficient, running much cooler than the equivalent AC motors, and so are often used in applications integrated with electronics where heat must be controlled. Brushless DC motors are actually 3 phase AC motors driven by a DC source. The DC directcurrent electricity is converted to three phase Alternating-current by an electronic device often refered to as an ESC, or Electronic Speed Controller. The controller performs the same power distribution found in a brushed DC motor, but using a solid-state circuit rather than a commutator/brush system. BLDC motors offer several advantages over brushed DC motors, including higher efficiency and reliability, reduced noise, longer lifetime (no brush erosion), elimination of ionizing sparks from the commutator, and overall reduction of electromagnetic interference (EMI). With no windings on the rotor, they are not subjected to centrifugal forces, and because the electromagnets are located around the perimeter, the electromagnets can be cooled by conduction to the motor casing, requiring no airflow inside the motor for cooling. This in turn means that the motor's internals can be entirely enclosed and protected from dirt or other foreign matter. The maximum power that can be applied to a BLDC motor is exceptionally high, limited almost exclusively by heat, which can damage the magnets. BLDC's main disadvantage is higher cost. BLDC motors require complex electronic speed controllers to run. Brushed DC motors can be regulated by a comparatively simple controller, such as a rheostat. Stepper motor: A stepper motor is a brushless, synchronous DC electric motor that can divide a full rotation into a large number of steps. The motor's position can be controlled precisely, without any feedback mechanism (see open loop control). Computer controlled stepper motors are one of the most versatile forms of positioning systems, particularly when part of a digital servo-controlled

Analog encoders often take the form of rotary potentiometers (commonly referred to as a "pot"). When the gear's teeth are thus aligned to the first electromagnet. effectively have multiple "toothed" electromagnets arranged around a central gear-shaped piece of iron. Servo motor: A servo motor is a DC motor with built in gearing and feedback control loop encoder circuitry (closed loop control). Servo motors have lightweight. Servo motors are more complex and expensive than stepper motors. they are slightly offset from the next electromagnet. the motor can be turned to a precise angle. Stepper motor systems must thus generally be over engineered. Stepper motors. such as a microcontroller. Servo motors can exert a higher torque during movement than can a stepper motor. the driver has no feedback on where the rotor actually is. and from there the process is repeated. To make the motor shaft turn. consisting of a three-terminal resistor with a sliding contact that forms an adjustable voltage divider. An advance on this technique is to normally run the motor in open loop mode. These are mechanical devices. first one electromagnet is given power. So when the next electromagnet is turned on and the first is turned off. but less torque than a stepper in a fixed position. Sophisticated drivers can proportionally control the power to the field electromagnets. a common servo problem.g. Stepper motors can also "lock" into position with a high degree of torque. A servo motor is generally much smoother and faster in motion than a comparable stepper. Analog encoders also come in optical form. the gear rotates slightly to align with the next one. especially if the load inertia is high.this will allow the system to avoid hunting or oscillating. Each of those slight rotations is called a "step." In that way.system Stepper motors operate much differently from normal DC motors. They are normally used as prime movers in computers. Their primary disadvantage for motor position control is the wear that accompanies any mechanical device and the slow effect of such wear on the encoder feedback. or there is widely varying load. which rotate when voltage is applied to their terminals. which are constructed to produce a . or other applications where starts and stops are made quickly and accurately. on the other hand. and will have a much higher resolution for position control. The electromagnets are energized by an external control circuit. so that there is no possibility that the motor will lose steps. an encoder or resolver). A new development in stepper control is to incorporate a rotor position feedback (e. and only enter closed loop mode if the rotor position error becomes too large -. so that the commutation can be made optimal for torque generation according to actual rotor position. with exceptional low speed torque and position resolution. This turns the stepper motor into a high pole count brushless servo motor. low-inertia armatures that respond quickly to excitation-voltage changes. which makes the gear's teeth magnetically attracted to the electromagnet's teeth. allowing the rotors to position between the step points and thereby rotate extremely smoothly.e. Stepper motors are generally operated open loop. Their position feedback is absolute in nature and will not change as the result of a power cycle. There is often a tradeoff between a small sized but expensive servomechanism system and an oversized but relatively cheap stepper. which may be analog or digital. i. numerically controlled machinery.

typically) into motion. More reliable than single acting cylinders. after powercycle. which is physically swept by a series of stationary. Some types of pneumatic actuators include: • • • Single acting tie rod cylinders that use the force imparted by air to move in one direction (usually out). Types include: Pneumatic A pneumatic actuator converts energy (in the form of compressed air. Absolute encoders generate a unique signal for each position of the motor. allowing measurement of relative position of shaft. Absolute encoders are more expensive and generally larger than incremental encoders. and so are not subject to counting error or loss of count due to power failure. which is mechanically converted to rotary motion. sliding contacts. They have two ports to allow air in. "home") to reset the relative positional counting process.g. As radial lines in each track interrupt the beam between a photoemitter-detector pair. go to a known position (e. the pulses can be converted to relative or absolute position measurements. Linear Actuators Linear actuators create motion and force along a straight line utilizing an externally applied energy source. By counting a single bit or by decoding a set of bits. depending on the type of actuator. but requiring two inputs and more costly than single acting cylinders.unique dual analog code that can be translated into an absolute angle of the shaft (by using a special algorithm). and a spring to return to the "home" position. digital pulses are produced. as is the case with incremental encoders. Double acting tie rod cylinders that use the force of air to move in both extend and retract strokes. Devices using incremental encoders must. which produces digital pulses as the shaft rotates. and the incremental encoder. one for outstroke and one for instroke. Rotary encoders are manufactured in two basic forms: the absolute encoder where a unique digital word corresponds to each rotational position of the shaft. Mechanical encoders utilize a metal disk containing conducting and non-conduction surfaces fixed to the shaft. Digital encoders are devices that convert motion into a sequence of digital pulses. Optical encoders are composed of a glass or plastic code disk with a photographically deposited radial pattern organized in tracks. The motion can be rotary or linear. but the most common type is rotary. Encoders have both linear and rotary configurations. Rotary actuators that use the force imparted by air to drive create linear motion. . Encoders may utilize mechanical or optical position tracking.

but does not extend beyond it. high reliability. allowing the same forces with less input. A Pneumatic actuator mainly consists of a piston. solenoids may be controlled directly by a controller circuit. noiseless actuation. to shut off. also called a hydraulic cylinder. dual or variable position. A typical input range is 20-100 kPa. The fluid pressure supplied to the hydraulic actuator is either supplied by a manual fluid pump or electric pump. The gripper can be used as part of a "pick and place" system that will allow a component to be picked up and placed somewhere else. Solenoid Solenoids are devices that convert electrical energy into linear motion. These are similar to pneumatic cylinders. Once actuated. Solenoid valves are an electromechanical valve for use with liquid or gas.• • Rodless actuators that use a mechanical or magnetic coupling to impart force. Having a larger piston can also be good if air supply is low. and thus have very fast reaction times. They are used as control elements in fluidics. Electricity passes through an electric coil. to be adjusted so as to control the amount of extension and/or retraction of the piston once actuated Hydraulic Hydraulic actuators. They can be designed for linear or rotary movement. good medium compatibility of the materials used. the larger the output pressure can be. Consequently. Solenoids can be actuated in milliseconds. a cylinder. They can also serve as the switch for routing air to any pneumatic device. release. Grippers that move in either parallel or angular motion of surfaces that will grip an object. dose. pneumatic devices can be designed with intermediate stopping points. forcing a movable steel or iron shaft (armature) to move in or out. compressed air enters into the cylinder at one end of the piston and imparts force on the piston. or can be velocity controlled to provide smooth. An example of a hydraulic actuator is a hydraulic cylinder utilized on an automotive repair lift utilized by mechanics to access the underside of a automobile for maintenance. Solenoids offer fast and safe switching. Although the most common form is two-position. but are used when higher motive forces are needed and slower response is acceptable. the piston becomes displaced (moved) by the compressed air expanding in an attempt to reach atmospheric pressure. Although typically weak over anything but very short distances. long service life. Pneumatic systems are often found in settings where simple movement is needed and where even rare and brief system failure is unacceptable. and valves or ports. distribute or mix fluids. The two isolated sides of the hydraulic piston are either pressurized or de-pressurized to achieve linear movement of the piston to create the linear motion and force. are a fluid pressure actuated linear motion piston within a enclosed cylinder. typically to a table or other body that moves along the length of the cylinder body. . The larger the size of the piston. low control power and compact design. creating a magnetic field.

when the lead screw is rotated. Most current actuators are built either for high speed. The direction of motion of the nut will depend on the direction of rotation of the lead screw. nor are they affected by them. a rotary driver is mechanically connected to a lead screw so that the rotation of the electric motor will make the lead screw rotate. they are characterized by being able to undergo a large amount of deformation while sustaining large forces. The piezo effect continues to occur at temperatures approaching 0 Kelvin.g. As a result. and lifetime. or a compromise between the two. they are often called artificial muscles. such as rotary motor/leadscrew assemblies Electromechanical Electromechanical actuators typically convert rotary motion (e.   . The nut is prevented from rotating with the lead screw (typically the nut interlocks with a non-rotating part of the actuator body). often to manipulate the position of linear stages or rotary stages. Piezoelectric materials exhibit hysteresis which makes it difficult to control their expansion in a repeatable manner. Piezoelectric linear drives can be used to create microscale positioning systems. Piezo actuators do not generate magnetic fields. A lead screw has a continuous helical thread machined on its circumference running along the length (similar to the thread on a bolt). the nut will be driven along the threads. forming the basis of linear stages without the use of classic electromechanical actuators. As actuators. force. Piezo actuators can react in microseconds. so piezo actuators are ideal for use in cryogenic conditions. Threaded onto the lead screw is a lead nut with corresponding helical threads. with acceleration rates of more than 10. Very high voltages correspond to only tiny expansions. Therefore. piezoelectric actuators can achieve extremely fine positioning resolution (sub-nanometer).Piezoelectric actuators The piezoelectric effect is a property of certain materials in which application of a voltage to the material causes it to expand. and have the potential for application in the field of robotics. When considering an actuator for a particular application. They can be used as actuators or sensors. the most important specifications are typically travel. the motion can be converted to usable linear displacement. speed.000g. By connecting linkages to the nut. Typically. Electroactive Polymers are polymers whose shape is modified when a voltage is applied to them. Due to the similarities with biological tissues in terms of achievable stress and force. high force. but also have a very short range of motion (several hundred microns). where large linear movement is often needed. from an electric motor) into linear displacement and force via screws and/or gears to which the rotary driver is connected.