What Is a Industrial Actuator?

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  • Written By: Paul Scott
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 14 January 2020
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The term "industrial actuator" is a somewhat generic description for any actuator designed for use in a specific heavy duty role in industrial applications. The exact definition of an industrial actuator is thus difficult to quantify as a “heavy duty” example in one industry may be hopelessly too light for another. In general terms, however, the term may be applied to any actuator called upon to do any specific industries' heaviest work. Variants generally associated with the industrial actuator term may either be linear or rotary output types powered by electric motors and compressed air or oil. Linear types include rack-and-pinion, ball screw, and piston varieties, while rotary types are generally driven by scotch yoke and gear train mechanisms.

Actuators are an integral part of many industries, with the industrial actuator being the heavyweight in the family. It is, however, difficult to deliver an accurate description of exactly what an industrial actuator is in terms of size and output capacity. A particular industry's big boy may be considered to be an outclassed weakling in another, so the definition has to be made on an industry-relevant basis to be of any value. For example, an industrial actuator used to move the bucket on an earth-moving machine may generate 5,000 pounds (2,267 kg) of output force and be considered to be mid-range in that application, while a 500 pound (227 kg) actuator in a precision engineering shop may be the biggest one that they have on their floor.


Generally speaking, the term can be used to define the actuators in any industry capable of performing that industry's heaviest tasks. These devices will typically share many, if not all, their operational characteristics with their light duty peers. They will use the same power sources such as electric motors or compressed fluids or gases such as air and oil, and will produce similar rotary or linear motion outputs. Both of these industrial actuator configurations will also feature internal mechanisms common to the lighter, low output types.

In the case of rotary industrial actuator types, these mechanisms will typically be high output types such as scotch yoke and gear trains. Linear heavy actuators are usually ball screw, rack-and-pinion, or positive displacement piston types. The latter are the true powerhouses of the heavy actuator world, with hydraulic models delivering more power, pound for pound, than any of the other types. This is true of both the rotary and linear configurations.


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