What Is an Air Actuator?

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  • Written By: Alex Newth
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 20 February 2020
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An air actuator, also called a pneumatic actuator, is a device made to produce motion through air pressure. Depending on how the actuator is set up, an air actuator is able to make either rotary or linear motion, and some special actuators can produce both. One of the most important parts of this type of actuator is the piston, which is directly responsible for how much power the device can output and may decrease the amount of incoming air pressure required. While this system is one of the strongest, the power will sharply decrease if there is anything blocking the air input.

Every actuator is made to push other parts via motion, and a power source is needed to make this motion. With an air actuator, air pressure is the predominant energy. This tends to be stronger than other power sources and often leads to fewer electrical parts, but this actuator needs many mechanical parts. There needs to be parts, such as an air compressor and piston, to regulate and produce the air. Air also is cleaner than other methods, such as hydraulic, because liquids are not needed for the actuator to work.

Like most actuators, an air actuator is able to create either rotary or linear movement. Rotary air actuators are able to create circular and angular movements, while linear air actuators move backward and forward. Some air actuators are able to combine both movement types, but most are one or the other.


While there are many parts needed to make an air actuator, perhaps one of the most important is the piston. The piston is responsible for outputting energy by first being pushed by air pressure, which causes the piston to move downward. When the piston moves, it increases the incoming force and the output generally is about three times the incoming energy. If the piston is changed at all, it will alter how much pressure the air actuator outputs; a larger piston results in a stronger output.

One of the major problems with using an air actuator is that the force can be sharply decreased if there is a leak or if there are any issues with the air pressure coming into the actuator. Any disruption in the air decreases the overall force of the actuator, so this system must be kept airtight and be maintained. If particles such as dust breach the actuator, then they also will decrease the effectiveness of this actuator.


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