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5 Types of Pneumatic Actuators: Complete Guide

Posted by SMC Pneumatics USA- Orange Coast Pneumatics on 4/22/2019 to General Pneumatics Products
5 Types of Pneumatic Actuators: Complete Guide

Ever order a delicate part only to find that it actually isn’t right for the piece of equipment you planned on using it with? This is more common than it might seem, and it can be a real nightmare at times. Some components come in so many different varieties that it can honestly be difficult to be sure you’re ordering the correct one for the job.

Pneumatic actuators are like this, but it’s genuinely a good thing for the consumer to have this much choice. These components convert energy from compressed air into mechanical motion. You can easily find parts that support the either linear or rotary motion, which means that engineers have been able to find an unbelievable number of uses for them. Medical experts have even used specialized actuators to replace human muscle tissue in some types of prosthetic limbs.

If you’re on the work site, then there are several types you’re likely to see. Experts from SMC Pneumatics compiled the following list to help you get up to speed with this exciting technical field.

1) Rotary Actuators

Perhaps the most basic type of actuator that technicians are likely to come into contact with is the standard rotary model. As the name suggests, it generates standard rotational motion when it receives energy in the form of compressed air. This makes it useful for a massive number of different use cases. You’d likely see rotary actuators everywhere from valves in the petrochemical industry to tiny analog gauges. Small units have even been used to move miniature display needles. They’re incredibly versatile, and you could easily dedicate an entire book to nothing but rotary actuators.

If you’ve ever worked with any sort of pneumatic pump, then you’ve almost certainly used one of these as well. Technicians who currently oversee at least some kind of compressed air-driven equipment might want to pause for a moment because they can probably think of at least three or four situations where they’ve had to install or maintain one of these ubiquitous tools.

2) Tie-rod Cylinders

While you may have a habit of associating tie-rod cylinders with hydraulics, there are pneumatic versions available too and they don’t offer any of the drawbacks that their fluid-filled counterparts are known for. These feature high-strength threaded rods that hold a pair of caps to the cylinder barrel. Since they’re so sturdy, they’re perfect for industrial factory settings that demand beefy equipment.

Perhaps best of all, they’re scalable. There are smaller sizes available for situations where you don’t need something massive and very large ones for cases where each part in your air circuit is required to do the maximum amount of work possible.

3) Grippers

The next time you need a tool to grasp something in your workshop, give pneumatic grippers a try. These actuators offer either parallel or angular motion an look like little fingers that will pick objects up. Skilled technicians can combine them with a few other pneumatic or electronic components to build what some people call a “pick and place” installation, which allows components to be picked up and then dropped down in some other location. It’s a great way to start automating your company’s workflows. Semiconductor companies have long used small ones to handle delicate transistors and microchips while other shops use large powerful ones to move entire car engines.

4) Rodless Actuators

Not all pneumatic motion devices feature physical rods. Some use a rack and pinion system while others feature mechanical linkage chains that resemble those used on electromechanical equipment. Some designers have instead preferred to use gears while a few have even relied on magnetically-linked cables. Companies that have very specific needs and want to custom-tailor their installation might want to look into this category.

There are also a variety of specialty actuators that may or may not have rods, which are designed to combine rotary and linear motion into a single unit. You’ll most often see these in settings where someone has to automatically clamp something down repeatedly. Keep in mind that this is a fairly broad category, and technologists are constantly experimenting with new designs. This means you’re likely to see a great variation between different models. Once again, this is never a bad thing since it means that the consumer gets to enjoy more choice.

5) Vacuum Generators

While an engineer might define the word vacuum as something like the absence of air pressure, there’s no reason why you can’t use air pressure to create it. Vacuum generators convert potential energy from the flow of compressed air into the usable vacuum, which can then power other components attached to the system. It can also be used to provide suction for countless applications where someone needs to collect powder and transport it somewhere else. As you might imagine, these generators are also useful in situations where you need to remove debris. In fact, this isn’t too far off from how consumer-grade vacuum cleaner equipment works.

Finding the Right Type of Pneumatic Actuators for Your Business

Considering how many different variations are currently on the market, you may still be unsure of which one is right for your business. Start by thinking more about your needs. A larger firm that has to regularly transport heavier objects may need hefty pneumatic grippers while a smaller company that works with machine parts might not need anything that can handle that much weight.

Even if you can’t quite match your needs to specific components, make sure to jot down every problem you feel can be solved by pneumatic technology. This will make it much easier to find the type of gear you need in the near future.

Once you’re ready to learn more about the options that are available, contact us online and talk with one of our staff experts. They’ll be able to get you the right kind of actuators for your specific use case.

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