Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Tips For Extending The Life Of Your Linear Actuator

It's easy to get a long service life out of your micro linear actuators. Actuonix devices are built to last and each unit is tested before it leaves our facility. That said, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind to get the most possible life from your linear actuators.

As with any other electronic devices, they're designed to be used in a specific way. If they are installed or operated in a way other than intended by the manufacturer, it's possible to cause your actuator to fail early. Follow the advice below to maximize your investment and get the most out of your actuator purchase.

1. Keep within the rated duty cycle

linear actuator duty cycle
Duty cycle is basically how much of the time an actuator is operational stated as a percentage. A duty cycle of 20% means that an actuator is rated to be in operation 20% of the time. For more information on duty cycles check out this article. The duty cycle of an actuator as indicated on the data sheet is designed to give you the best balance of usability and lifespan. If your actuator has a 20% duty cycle and you run it at 30%, it will probably do that just fine for a while, but over time it will shorten the life of the device.

2. Minimize side load

Standard linear actuators are designed to push and pull a load. They are not designed to be side loaded. Side loading an actuator can significantly reduce it's life by increasing the internal friction which wears out the components much faster. If your application puts the actuator in a position where a side load will be present, consider using a linear slide rail in conjunction with your actuator. Another solution would be to use a track actuator. Track actuators are designed to take some side load and are idea of these types of situations.

3. Stay within the recommended voltage

Actuators have a rated voltage for a reason. If you apply more voltage than is recommended for a unit it may run faster for a while. Ultimately however, this will shorten the life of the motor and cause premature failure of the device. It is better to purchase an actuator that is rated for the voltage that you intend to use or alternately, find a way to reduce the voltage in your application.

4. Watch your force

Heavy Duty Linear Actuator

All things being equal, the lower the force that your application requires, the longer your actuator will last. An actuator rated for a 20lbs max is capable of pushing/pulling 20lbs of force. It is recommended that you operate your actuator as far below the max rated force as possible for maximum lifespan. If you require a high force consider moving up to a higher gearing ratio. This will reduce the speed of the device but increase it's lifespan.

5. Avoid extreme operating conditions

It's best of avoid using actuators in environments with extreme heat, cold, dirt or dust and moisture if possible. There are situations where a customer's needs can be accommodated. For example, in the past we have actuators with custom gear lube for low temperatures. For more information, check out our custom linear actuator page.

For some applications, an actuator can be modified to work in extreme conditions or placed in an enclosure for protection. Before placing an actuator in an extreme environment make sure to check with the unit's manufacturer and ensure that it can handle what you're asking of it.

If you follow the above recommendations and treat your micro linear actuators with care, you should get a great service life out of them.
Monday, 19 June 2017

Linear Actuators For The Medical Industry

medical linear actuators

Micro linear actuators can be found throughout the healthcare industry. You often can not see them in the devices that help keep us healthy but they're discreetly performing critical functions behind the scenes. Medical applications range from simple tasks to more sophisticated, challenging applications that require more precise movement and greater force. 

This industry is projected to see steady growth through 2023. As this industry continues to grow, we are committed to helping manufacturers increase their profits with our ever-increasing line of high-quality linear actuators for medical devices.

Low Cost Actuators For Medical Devices

We all know that the cost of health care is always rising. There are of course many reasons for this but one primary cause is that medical component manufacturers charge hundreds and even thousands of dollars for small linear actuators. These devices are of course high quality and rated for use in the health industry but do these parts really need to be so expensive?

Actuonix Motion Devices takes pride in producing low cost micro linear actuators for medical devices and other applications. For years we have been proving some of the top medical device manufacturers in the world with micro motion devices for testing and positioning as well as many other applications. Our customers are in many different areas of the medical industry including optical, dental, medical devices and prosthetics to name just a few.

Custom Linear Motion Solutions For Medical Industry Applications

At Actuonix, we carry a line of more than 160 unique models to suit your individual needs. It's likely that we have a device that will suit your application right off the shelf. Some manufacturers however require more precise stroke lengths, clevis end-tips, control wires or other custom features. For those companies we offer a custom linear actuator design service.

For years, high-volume manufacturers have trusted Actuonix to provide them with the custom linear motion solution they need. Our custom modifications range from custom cable lengths to different gearing ratios for more powerful micro linear actuators as well as custom stroke lengths and connectors. Whatever it is that you are designing, our team of engineers will work with you to build the perfect linear motion solution for your medical application.

Looking Forward

Micro electric actuator advancements are changing how medical equipment designers approach medical equipment designs. Medical institutions are demanding smaller sizes, more power and lower costs. At Actuonix, we have an actuator that will strike your ideal balance of power, size and cost. More models are always in development as we strive to offer the best selection of affordable micro linear actuators for the medical industry.

If you need help choosing an actuator that will suit your application, don't hesitate to contact our sales team. They would be happy to assist you in choosing the micro motion device that will best suit your specifications.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Micro Linear Actuators In Prosthetics

As a manufacturer of electric micro linear actuators, one of the industries that we're most excited to be directly involved with is the production of prosthetics. In recent years, we have had the privilege of working with several companies that manufacture prosthetics.

Prosthetic technology is rapidly evolving, and the cost of that technology continues to drop. It's possible that in ten or twenty years, every amputee on earth could have access to a prosthetic limb. This would have a huge impact on quality of life for millions of people worldwide.

How have prosthetics improved in recent years?


Materials

The cost of materials has dropped in recent years. 3D printing allows manufacturers to design and produce parts in small quantities for a low cost. Engineers, students and hobbyists can now afford to try their hand at designing prosthetics.


Functionality

The latest prosthetic hands have some advanced features that allow the user to really take full control of the limb. Some of the features that are coming available in prosthetic hands for example are pivoting opposable thumbs, rotating wrists and temperature sensing capabilities.


Cost

3D printing is fairly inexpensive, and printers are now available at colleges, universities and even some public libraries. The availability of inexpensive micro linear actuators also reduce costs considerably. A prosthetic hand might have as many as 6 actuators so this is a cost that can add up. All of our most popular miniature actuators for prosthetics are less than $100USD. Bulk pricing is also offered allowing manufacturers to save more money.


Superior to a human hand?

Prosthetic hands have evolved to the point where they are in some regards, superior to biological hands. New-age prosthetics have outstanding grip strength and some offer wrist-rotation that is well outside the human range of motion.

Here are a few companies on the cutting edge of prosthetic hand design


Open Bionics

Miniature linear actuators for prosthetics

Open Bionics was founded by Joel Gibbard and Samantha Payne in 2014. Their vision is to get a prosthetic hand to every amputee globally. This is a huge goal, but their ADA hand is making it possible. The ADA hand is a 3D printable, open-source prosthetic hand designed by Open Bionics.

Anybody can download the plans and purchase the parts to build their own ADA hand for a fraction of what a traditional prosthetic hand costs.

Open Bionics also has some exciting new initiatives. They have partnered with Marvel to make a line of hands for children that feature popular kid's movie themes including Star Wars, Iron Man and Frozen. These new hands are something that young amputees can get excited about. It also gives their peers something other than their disability to focus on.


YouBionic

micro linear actuators for prosthetics

Federico Ciccerese is another leader in 3D printed hands. He founded YouBionic and developed their first 3D printed hand with a price tag of 1200GBP. According to this 2014 article on 3Dprint.com, his main goals were that the prosthesis be affordable, have easily replaceable electronic and printable parts, and have natural-looking movements. The electronics of the hand are based on the affordable arduino platform and are readily available.


Future

The low-cost prosthetic hands that are available on the market right now are far superior to what anybody could have guessed 20 years ago. We're excited for what the future of this industry holds and with leaders like the above mentioned companies at the forefront of this technology, there will be much to get excited about.
Friday, 2 June 2017

How To Adjust Linear Actuator Speed

Linear actuators come in hundreds of different varieties. 6V, 12V, 24V, different stroke lengths and control options etc. There's a lot out there to choose from.

It can still be difficult however to find a device that suits your specific needs. In a previous post we covered how to adjust linear actuator end limits. Today I'm going to show you four ways that you can adjust the speed of a linear actuator. Depending on your needs, skills and budget, you have some options.

1. Use an LAC board or motor controller


A linear actuator control board gives you control over an actuator's speed, end-limits and sensitivity. It also gives you the option of controlling your actuator with one of five different input signals. An LAC board can only be used with Actuonix 'P' series micro linear actuators, as well as some large-scale actuators that have position feedback.

The board has a pot that is used to control the speed of the actuator. The maximum speed can not be increased this way but it makes it easy to slow an actuator down.

2. Use an Arduino


If you're controlling your actuator via Arduino, you have some control over the speed at which it travels. The code you use is going to be specific to your project but a discussion on the topic can be found on the Arduino forums here.

3. Adjust input voltage

A simple way to lower the speed of a linear actuator is to reduce the voltage at which you drive it. The speed of Actuonix actuators is approximately proportional to voltage. This means that if you were to drive one of our 12V actuators at 6V, the speed would be roughly half of what it is a 12V. This is approximate but if you have access to an adjustable power supply you can dial your voltage down to get the speed you need.

4. Buy an actuator with different gearing

I realize this doesn't exactly qualify as "adjusting" actuator speed but it's worth noting. Actuonix models come in several different gearing ratios to help accommodate the speed and force specs of your project. 

For example, the three gearing ratios in our T16 linear track actuators offer speeds of 4.8mm/s, 18mm/s and 46mm/s. Simply using a different gearing ratio can bring you much closer to the speed that you're trying to achieve.




If you can find a gearing ratio that works for you out of box, that's the best case scenario. If you need control over the speed it's best to purchase an actuator that's a little faster than you need as you can slow it down without damage. Trying to speed an actuator up by increasing the operating voltage will more than likely decrease the lifespan of the unit.

Need help choosing the correct actuator for your project? Contact our knowledgeable sales staff for assistance.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

What's The Difference Between A Linear Actuator And A Linear Servo?

If you're new to micro linear actuators, you might find yourself a little bit confused that there are two different terms used to describe what appear to be identical products: linear actuator, and linear servo. This can be confusing for some people and my aim here is to clear it up and help you understand what is meant by 'actuator' vs 'servo'.

It's important to know that all differences (other than the connector cable) are internal. Linear actuators and linear servos are indeed identical when viewed from the outside. They function exactly the same way, in and out.

So what's the difference?

An actuator operates in the same manner as an electric motor. When power is applied, the motor will spin, and when power is removed, the motor will stop. Actuators are exactly the same. They are dumb devices that only recognize on or off. They are incapable of position control on their own.

A servo is different in that it can receive a command to go to a specific position, and then act on that command. It's not a simple power on-power off equation. A servo can be told what to do and then do it on it's own.
RC Servo

Though they look the same, they're actually quite different in how they function. This makes them ideal for different applications.

Actuators are ideal for projects and situations where what you need is the same range of linear motion all the time. You can apply power and it will extend until the end-limit switch shuts off the power. Reverse the polarity and the same will happen in retraction.

Servos are ideal for more complex applications where you need the device to respond to an external command for a certain position. This is how RC servos work. A linear servo must have 3 or more wires. Power, ground and a signal wire to tell the servo what position it should go to.

Looking at the pictures below, it's easy to understand how some might be a little confused.


micro linear actuators

So to summarize, an actuator is a dumb device that can not complete a task without being told to do so, and a servo is 'smart' in that it can accept an input signal and go to that position on it's own.

It's actually fairly simple, but this distinction can cause some confusion. I hope this article has helped you understand the difference and hopefully give you the foundation you need to choose the best device for your application.






Monday, 8 May 2017

How To Automate A Chicken Coop Door Using Micro Linear Actuators

How To Automate A Chicken Coop Door Using Micro Linear Actuators

The local food movement is inspiring more and more families to install backyard chicken coops. This is the time of year when people are considering installing a coop for the first time or perhaps upgrading an existing chicken coop door. In this article, we're going to show you exactly how to automate your chicken coop door using a remote control or an arduino

Why Automate Your Chicken Coop?

Among the challenges that come with owning chickens is that you have to protect them from predators. Most chicken owners go out every morning and open their chicken coop door, and then again in the evening to close it. This keeps your chickens safe from eagles, owls, coyotes and a host of other predators. It is however, time consuming.

If your coop is near your house this might not bother you much, but if your coop is across a yard or a farm, it can be a chore. If you have limited mobility, spend a lot of time outside the home or live in an area with cold weather or excessive rain, it can be downright irritating.

How To Automate Your Coop Door

A quick YouTube search will show you that there are a thousand different ways to skin a cat or in this case, contain a chicken. Using a micro linear actuator to automate a chicken coop door is ideal because they are inexpensive and easy to install. 

If you buy from a reputable manufacturer, it will also come with a hardware kit for mounting so that you don't have to drive out to a hardware store and buy a bunch of extra parts. 

We're going to focus on two simple ways to accomplish the goal:

  • Open and close your coop with a remote control system
  • Open and close your chicken coop using an arduino

Using a remote control is the easiest method by far. Our wireless remote control has a range of up to 100m in a straight line and is simple to wire - 2 wires in for power, 2 wires out to the actuator. It comes with 2 remotes that have the batteries pre-installed to save you money.

If your coop is in a front or back yard, or on a deck, this is an ideal setup. One button will open the coop and the other will close it. 

If you're away from home a lot or have a coop that's far from your house, you'll want to consider using an arduino. Arduino is an inexpensive, open-source micro-controller that can be used to perform tasks. For example, using a photoresistor, an arduino can send a signal to a linear actuator to extend when the sun goes down, and retract when it comes back up.

Alternately, you could program the arduino to close the coop door at a specific time, temperature or humidity setting. You can also use arduino to automatically dispense chicken food or water or automatically lock a gate that leads into the coop. If you love to have complete control, arduino is perfect. 

You will need to learn some basic wiring and coding in order to make the arduino function the way that you want it to. If you're up for it, learning arduino can be a lot of fun. If you don't want to learn, you can always hire a local professional to help you with the programming and installation.

Mounting The Actuator

As I mentioned before, quality micro linear actuators for automation all come with a hardware kit for mounting. Where you mount it will depend on whether your door is hinged or sliding. 

Also, make sure that the actuator can handle the weight of the door that you're pushing or pulling open. You won't have a problem using Actuonix actuators as we have devices that will lift up to 67lbs max.When you receive your actuator, mount it to the coop and door using the provided hardware kit.

Choose a fixed point in your coop and on the door. Measure between those points with the door closed and with it open. This will give you the total stroke length required. If you need a stroke that is not offered off the shelf, you have options. We recently wrote an article highlighting some options for setting a custom stroke on linear actuators.

My family has owned a farm and raised chickens for years. We understand the challenges that come with daily coop maintenance and can tell you confidently that whether you're an urban farmer or own an acreage, a diy automated chicken coop door will make your daily chores much easier.

If you have used linear actuators in an urban farming application we'd love to see what you built!

Thursday, 4 May 2017

10 Different Options For Controlling Linear Actuators


If you're new to linear actuators, you might not realize that there are many different options for linear actuator control. Long gone are the days where all you could get was a simple 2-wire device that operates via reversing polarity. Those are still available of course but manufacturers are offering a variety of different input modes to cater to hobbyists, arduino enthusiasts as well as the technical needs of equipment manufacturers.

Below you will find ten different options for controlling linear actuators. This list is intended to give you an overview of what's possible for linear actuator control. It's not exhaustive, there are other options out there but these are the ones that will work for most people.


Rocker Switch


The rocker switch is a great option for basic control of 2-wire linear actuators. You can use either a latching or momentary DPDT switch to move your actuator in and out. Rocker switches are ideal for automotive and heavy equipment applications where 12V power is readily available.

Push Button

push button linear actuator

Similar to the rocker switch in functionality, the lighted DPDT push-button switch is a little more stylish and is great for applications where you want the control to really stand out.

Wireless Remote Controller

remote control linear actuator
If you want the ability to extend or retract your actuator from a distance, our Wireless Remote Control kit is for you. It features a range of up to 100 meters and is ideal for situations where you need to control your actuator at a distance. Opening locks, opening gates and compartments are some examples of where the wireless remote might com in handy.

Photocell

linear actuator arduino

If you're an arduino user, you can use it with a photo sensor to extend or retract your actuator based on the amount of light available. This is great for chicken coops. You can automatically close your chicken coop door at night and open it in the morning, saving yourself the hassle of leaving the house to do it manually.


Potentiometer

linear actuator potentiometer

P series actuators can be controlled with a sliding or rotary potentiometer via our LAC board. This is ideal for applications where you need to select a certain point along the actuator's travel and have lots of control over position.

RC

RC Linear Servo

R series linear servos can be controlled via a standard RC receiver. This means that adding functionality to your RC car boat or drone is as simple as plugging an R series linear servos into an unused channel on your receiver. This opens up a wide range of options for customization from retractable landing gear, grabber arms, sail adjustment and more.


PWM

Using P series linear actuators with an LAC board, you can control the actuator with a single digital output pin from an external microcontroller.  The desired actuator position is encoded as the duty cycle of a 3.3 Volt, 1 kHz square wave on LAC connector X6 pin 5, where the percent duty cycle sets the actuator position to the same percent of full stroke extension. 100% duty cycle represents full extension, and 0% duty cycle represents full retraction.


USB

If you want to control your actuator from your computer, we've got you covered. Our USB configuration software allows you to send commands to your actuator right from your Windows computer. This can be useful for product development and testing where you have a computer nearby and want to be able to experiment with different settings on the fly.


4-20 mA Interface Mode

This is one of the five control modes supported by our LAC board. This mode is compatible with PLC devices typically used in industrial control applications. Most consumers won't use this option so I won't go into detail here. For more info on how to use this control mode, see our LAC board data sheet.


Timer Relay

Linear actuator timer
If you need your actuator to extend or retract for a specific period of time in seconds, minutes or hours, then you can use a timer relay to accomplish that. This is useful for applications where you need something accomplished on a regular cycle and want to keep your cost down and avoid arduino programming.

I hope that this list has given you a better idea of the options you have when it comes to linear actuator control.