Monday, 18 September 2017

Rod vs Rodless Actuators


Rod and Track (rodless) actuators ultimately perform the same function - they move loads back and forth. Depending on your application however, there can be significant advantages to either rod or track actuators in your design. 

Rod Actuators

Rod actuators are more common than track actuators. In fact, 90% of our product lineup are rod actuators. Simply put, any actuator functions by extending a rod out of the device to drive motion is a rod actuator.
These are ideal for applications where the load you are pushing is either very light weight, or not primarily supported by the actuator. Rod actuators are intolerant of side loads by design. Because of this, it's important that when using this type of device, your load is either supported by a guide device such as a linear slide rail or by some other means.

Rodless

A rodless or track actuator does not have a rod that extends from the device to push or pull the load. Rather, it has a carriage or block to mount the load to, and it carries the load along the length of the actuator. Electric rod actuators can be driven via lead screw or belt. All of our track actuators screw driven.
There are a couple of main advantages to using a track actuator. First, they take up less space overall. For example, if you use a rod actuator, the unit has to be long enough when retracted to fit the rod inside the device. Add to that the length of the rod when it extends from the device. On larger actuators that adds up to significant length. Track actuators carry the load along the length of the device and thus can be used in applications where less space is available.
The second main advantage of using rodless actuators is that the actuator itself is capable of supporting the load. This not only saves you space in your design, but also saves you the cost of a slide rail.

What's right for you?

Do you know what type of actuator is ideal for your application? If you need a hand selecting a device that will work for your application, give our sales team a call. Linear motion is all we do and our sales professionals can help you pick the device that's going to work well with your design.


Thursday, 7 September 2017

Linear Actuators and IP Ratings


When selecting a linear actuator for a project, there are many different things to consider. Stroke, speed, physical dimensions and force requirements are the most common, but there are other things that you may need to account for when choosing an actuator to include in your design. Some customers require their actuators to be dust proof, waterproof or water resistant. These customers typically want to know what our actuators carry for an IP rating.

What is an IP Rating?

IP which stands for International Protection Marking is a universally recognized system of rating the degree of protection provided against intrusion for mechanical casings and in our case, electrical devices. Simply put, it's a rating for how resistant a product is to water and dust. 

The ratings system is designed to give consumers more detailed information about the types of environments that a product is suitable for than vague terms such as "waterproof" or "water resistant".

How IP Rating Works

Simply put, an item that carries an IP rating will have the letters 'IP' followed by two numbers, for example, IP24. There are other designations that can follow the numbers, these represent additional, more specific testing. For the purposes of electronic devices, just understanding the basic numbers will do just fine. There is a drop-test component to the IP numbers as well, but at this time it is not yet widely used.

The first number indicates how much protection the enclosure provides against foreign objects. This could mean parts, wires or dust. This is rated on a scale from 0 through to 6 with zero being no protection at all, and 6 being completely dust tight.

The second number represents the level of protection that the enclosure offers against the ingress of water. This is rated on a scale from 0-8 with zero being no protection whatsoever and 9k being protected against close-range, high-pressure, high-temperature spray downs.


linear actuator IP rating


Why is this Important?

You don't want to buy a linear actuator, or any electrical device that can not withstand the conditions that it will be subjected to. Understanding how IP ratings work is important to make sure that you choose a device that offers adequate or superior protection to what you require.

Do Actuonix Actuators Carry an IP Rating?

Yes - all of our rod actuators carry an IP rating of 54. The solid object rating of 5 means that our actuators can be expected to protect against all but a very limited ingress of dust and should not effect the operation of the device.

The moisture rating of 4 means that our devices are protected from water splashes from all directions, but not complete submersion, high-pressure spray or prolonged exposure.

If you have any questions about our IP ratings or need help choosing an actuator that is appropriate to your application and operating environment, please give us a call. Our sales professionals can help you identify your needs and direct you to the product that will best suit your application. If you require a custom solution, we offer a custom micro actuator design service

Looking for more information on IP ratings, check out this Wikipedia article for a more in-depth explanation of how IP ratings work.



Tuesday, 15 August 2017

2017 Engineering Scholarship Winners


Earlier this year, we launched a scholarship program for engineering students. Our aim was to give back to the engineering community by supporting talented young engineers who had trouble meeting their financial needs for school. 

Our goal is to promote education in the various engineering disciplines and make it more accessible to young women and men who might be considering it as a career path.

We offered two scholarships of $1000 each. We are excited to announce that we have selected the recipients for the 2017 year - Samuel Akinwande and Martin Freeman. 


Samuel Akinwande


engineering scholarship

Samuel is a rising sophomore in mechanical engineering at the University of Houston. A dedicated student and talented young man, he was accepted there at just 16 years old. 

He is currently under a National Science Foundation research grant to develop a torque-sensing device for a pediatric exoskeleton. Previously he has worked at the Texas Heart Institute as a research assistant on the design of a minimally invasive ventricular assist device.

Samuel is definitely going places and we're excited to be part of his journey.


Martin Freeman


engineering scholarship

Martin provided us with the bio below.

"I am a robotics enthusiast from Newark, New Jersey currently studying mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia with a focus on the field of mechatronics. With BC’s beautiful landscapes situated right in my backyard, I love to get out as much as I can by foot, boat, kayak or even motorcycle to keep my life balanced and my mind centered. Building and taking things apart is a recurring process I’ve nested into quite comfortably over my life, so I am always looking forward to what new project I can get my hands on next to diversify my skill set. 

Since the start of my degree, I have been fortunate enough to get the chance to apply my aptitude for robotics in several interesting start-up companies, and look forward to helping bring humanity to space this next spring through my internship at spaceflight company Blue Origin. Both space and robotics are two industries I am eager to break into and I am looking forward to soon pursuing graduate studies to learn everything I can. Opportunities like the Actuonix scholarship program help young engineers like myself keep the fire alive and pursue the most prodigious of dreams, and for that I am extremely grateful."

We want to thank everybody who took the time to apply for this award. Because of a post we made on Reddit a few months back we were inundated with applications and it was a pleasure to read through them and see the amazing things that young engineers are working on.


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Preventing Side Load Failure



Let's talk about side loads (also called overhung loads) for a minute. A side load is any load that is exerted perpendicular to the direction of a linear actuator's travel.

side load

All actuators are limited in the amount of side load that they can handle. Side loading any type of actuator will reduce it's life and should be avoided. The side load rating for a device can be found on the corresponding data sheet. Putting too much side load on an actuator can have various negative effects including:
  • Reduced actuator speed
  • Reduced actuator lifespan
  • Increased project costs resulting from frequent parts replacement

Actuator's Intended Use

Linear actuators are intended to be loaded in-line with the device. When moving in or out it should be pushing or pulling the load directly with minimal side load. We provide a figure for maximum side load because we know that nothing is perfect and there will always be a small amount of side load on the device. Just understand that side loading is hard on a rod actuator and even a small amount can reduce the life of the unit.

Related article: Tips For Extending The Life Of Your Linear Actuator

How Side Loading Affects Actuators

There are a few different ways. First, side loading increases internal friction. This causes the motor to work harder and can reduce the motor's life. Second, excessive loads perpendicular to the device can prematurely wear out the drive nut and/or lead screw. Third, loads above the rated figure could result in structural failure of the device.

In order to ensure that you're not overloading your device, always check the datasheet. Actuonix provides a figure for the maximum allowable side load at full extension in newtons. This makes it easy for you to figure out if you're exceeding that load or not.

Alternatives To Side Loading

If your project requires a significant side load, you have a few options.

1. Redesign your mechanism to reduce side load.

Changing the amount of side load required from your actuator may just mean a minor adjustment to the design of your project. If you can not make such an adjustment, consider one of the next two options.

2. Use a linear slide rail. 

linear slide

Linear slide rails are simple to use and reasonably inexpensive. To use a slide rail you need to mount the rail to something that is permanently fixed in position. You then mount the moving mechanism that is causing the side load to the sliding block on the rail. Last, you connect the actuator to drive the slide block, and your load, along the rail. The slide rail can handle much more side load then the actuator and doing this you will prevent overhung load failure of your actuator.

3. Use a track actuator

mini track actuator

A track actuator is similar in operation to a standard rod actuator in that is uses a lead screw and drive nut. The key difference is rather than extending a shaft in and out, the body of the actuator itself is longer and a mounting block slides in and out with the load attached. A track actuator is convenient because it offers the functionality of an actuator and a slide rail, but keeps your design simple as it's one device instead of two. This also helps keep your costs down.

Repeated failure

If you're experiencing repeated equipment failure or shorter than expected actuator life, check the side load and make sure it's in spec. You may be experiencing overhung load failure. Being over the manufacturers recommended side load figure can reduce the life of your device considerably.

If you have any questions about how to support a side load, or the capabilities of the device you're using, give Actuonix a call. We can help you with the product information you need before you load your actuator.

If you have any questions about our products or how to integrate them into your project, give us a shout, we're always happy to help.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Can I Modify My Actuator?



For some customers, a stock unit will not do the trick. Integrating our products into your designs can take some level of customization. 

Our actuators are not meant to be disassembled or heavily modified by customers. There are however some basic changes that you might want to make to help integrate our products with your design. Below are a few examples of alterations you can make to Actuonix micro linear actuators.

Please be advised that any alterations you make to a stock actuator may void your warranty. If you're unsure, please contact us for details.

Paint

Yes - you can paint your actuator. I know there are some RC enthusiasts out there who like to spray their actuators in Caterpillar yellow or John Deere green. Painting the exterior of your device will not affect it's functionality whatsoever so long as you follow these guidelines.


You can only paint the plastic housing and outer (square) shaft. Do not paint the circular actuator shaft. Painting this part could impede it's ability to retract into the device. This could also result in bits of paint chipping off inside the actuator and damaging the drive nut, lead screw or motor assemblies. You can also paint the clevis end-tip so long as you remove it first or make sure to protect the actuator shaft.

End tip

Custom end tips are a popular way to customize a linear actuator. All of our rod actuators come with a clevis end tip attached to the device and a threaded end tip in the hardware bag in case you want to mount it that way. Note - do not remove your end tip before watching this video. The video shows you how to do it without damaging your device.

We have several customers who build their own end tips for custom mounting solutions. Some of them use plastic and even aluminum. The internal threads on our actuator shafts are an M8x1.25. 

Plug

All of our devices come with a plug mounted at the end of the cable for your convenience. If you prefer, you can remove the stock plug and replace it with a custom plug that is more suitable to your application.

Stroke

It is possible to customize the stroke of your -S or -P series actuator using an external limit switch kit. The kit comes with two limit switches. You can choose to use just one to limit only extension or retraction or you can utilize both switches to set a completely custom stroke. This can also be accomplished with our LAC board and a -P series actuator.

Related post: Choosing The Correct Linear Actuator For Your Application.

Speed

It is not possible to increase the speed of stock actuators. If you require a faster actuator we can build a custom device for you. Typically there is a MOQ of 500 for this type of modification. If you just need to reduce the speed of your device, we recommend using a -P series actuator with our linear actuator control board. You can dial the speed down by simple turning a pot on the board.
Linear actuator controller

If you have any other questions about custom actuator solutions or how to modify an actuator to suit your needs, give us a call. Our product specialists will be happy to work with you to help find a device that will integrate smoothly into your project.
Friday, 21 July 2017

Quiet Linear Actuators



For many applications, linear actuators must not only be small and discreet, but also quiet. A quiet actuator is important in places such as medical facilities where increased noise could distract a healthcare worker, or in product applications where too much sound could distract from the intended function of the product.

The same is true for home automation. Most of us enjoy a quiet home and as automation continues to find it's way into our home, the demand for actuators that product lower volumes increases.

Volume is usually measured in decibels. Here is an accurate definition of 'decibel' from Google. More information can be found on Wikipedia.

dec·i·bel
noun
  1. a unit used to measure the intensity of a sound or the power level of an electrical signal by comparing it with a given level on a logarithmic scale.

Reputable manufacturers will provide a data sheet indicating how quiet an actuator is in decibels. That's great but if you don't know how much sound 80 decibels is offhand, that information isn't really useful to you. 

Below is a decibel chart that you can use to help you understand how loud in decibels, typical noises that we're all used to actually are.

quiet actuator

As you can see, the higher the rating in decibels, the louder the sound being made. This means that a noise rated at 70 decibels is louder than a noise rated at 60 decibels. Pretty simple right?

Quiet Electric Actuators

Electric actuators are typically quieter than other styles. Their simple design allows them to perform with less noise than electromagnetic, vacuum or pneumatic devices. Most electric actuators are rated below 65 decibels, which is fairly quiet.

While doing research for this article I was surprised to find that many actuator manufacturers do not offer a decibel rating for their devices on the datasheet. If you're considering buying a product, I would expect that type of information. Here is a section of an Actuonix data sheet:

quiet electric actuator


Rating An Actuator

There doesn't seem to be a standard for distance when rating how quiet an actuator is. Of course if you went into another room and measured the noise, it would be far lower than if you put the measuring device right next to the actuator. All of the numbers on our datasheets are measured at 45cm from the device, or about how far you'd be away from it if you were working at a desk.

Some manufacturers will tell you that their devices are 45 decibels but not offer how far away the measurement was taken. Make sure to ask them what their testing standards are. As I mentioned above, the same device could rate 30 or 60 decibels depending on how close you're standing when you rate it.

Actuonix Motion Devices

We know electric micro actuators better than anybody, because it's all we do. Making quiet actuators is a top priority when our team is developing new designs. We offer a massive selection of over 160  automation products to help you maintain your peaceful environment.

If you're looking for electric actuators with low noise, give us a call. If we don't have an off the shelf product that will work for your application, we might be able to custom build one depending on your requirements. Actuonix has the experience to work with your company from the idea phase all the way through to testing and implementation.

For more information, you can contact us any time between 7:30-3:00 Monday through Friday PST.


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Choosing The Correct Actuator For Your Application



If you're looking for a micro linear actuator to suit your application you may have found the options a little overwhelming. Under the Actuonix brand, there are 6 unique micro actuator lines. These lines feature strokes ranging from 10mm through to 300mm, forces between 2-67lbs and five different control options.

micro linear actuator control


As of today (July 2017), there are 164 unique products in the Actuonix family, and we have just received prototypes of a new line that will come available soon. Why do we offer so many choices? It's simple really, we want to have an off-the-shelf solution for as many customers as possible.

Frankly, it can be confusing to understand how to choose the right product for your application. That's what this article is for. I'm going to walk you through the different lines and control options and help you make the right decision for your project.

Choosing how you're going to control a linear actuator

This is where you should start when choosing a micro linear actuator. Our products come in five control options: S series, P series, R series, I series and NXT

S Series 

The S series is the simplest actuator that we offer. They are a simple 2-wire device and are controlled by reversing the polarity on the 2 wires. These are available in 12V input, and some of our models are also available in 6V input.

The 12V S series is ideal for automotive projects where 12V power is readily available. They're perfect for applications where you want to control the your linear actuator with a button or rocker switch or a wireless remote control. S series actuators are also great for home projects when used in conjunction with a power supply of the correct voltage for the device.

P Series

The P series actuator was designed to be used in conjunction with our linear actuator control board. When you use the P series actuator with the LAC board you get easy control of the stroke end points, sensitivity and actuator speed. The LAC board has 5 input modes that allow you to operate the actuator with your computer via our LAC software, radio control, PWM, 0-3.3V or 4-20mA.

P series actuators are perfect for testing and prototyping as well as other applications where you want to experiment with different stroke lengths and speeds. It allows you to easily experiment with different settings on the fly saving you the expense and hassle of having custom products designed.

R Series

The R series linear servo features the same 3-wire design as RC rotary servos. They are a plug and play replacement for rotary servos. R series products are ideal for RC and arduino applications. It is possible to run one R series actuator directly off of an arduino board. This makes them a great choice for Robotics enthusiasts and hobbyists.

I Series

The Actuonix I Series of micro linear actuators feature an embedded internal position controller  that allows you to send position commands  that it will follow. It is capable of accepting voltage, current or RC input and are available in 6V or 12V models.

Lego Actuators*

Our EV3 line of linear actuators for Lego are built off of the popular L12 platform. They feature custom mounting points that are compatible with Mindstorms, Power Functions and Technic Lego kits. These actuators are popular for custom Lego projects such as bridge builders, cranes, forklifts and much more.

We are proud to offer more micro actuators than anybody else in the industry. Whether you're a product designer for a medical company or a hobbyist building with arduino, there is a control option to suit your project.

For more information on our control options please don't hesitate to give us a call.

*We are not affiliated with Lego and they do not endorse our products.