Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Opening And Closing Windows With Linear Actuators

Opening Window With Linear Actuator

It's becoming a fairly popular project to automate household windows. Using linear actuators is the most cost-effective and simple way to achieve this.

There are a lot of reasons that you may want to consider automating your home windows, skylights or vents.
  • To prevent your home from getting too cold at night
  • If it is in a difficult to reach spot
  • To keep bugs out at certain times of day
  • For noise abatement if you live near a railroad or airport
  • Just for fun!
Automating your home's windows, skylights or vents is a project that anybody can take on. With only a few basic tools you can create a system that will open windows with the push of a button, wireless remote or even on a timer switch.

Related article: Choosing The Correct Actuator For Your Application

If you're up for taking on a more difficult project, you can use an arduino board to control your actuator. This will open up dozens of new ways that you can control your actuator setup. You can use motion sensors, clap sensors, light sensors, voice command, bluetooth or other inputs to determine when your device opens and closes. This can be particularly useful if you're not home often.

We do not officially support arduino. We do however offer a few helpful resources here. The best place to go for arduino support are the arduino forums.

Step 1

Measure the distance that your window must travel, and select an appropriate actuator.

Our micro linear actuators are small and discreet, making them ideal for applications where you don't want a massive device in your face every time you go to your window

That said, our actuators have a maximum stroke of just under 12". This will be plenty for windows that swing up or out, but you may want more stroke for windows that slide. 

Step 2

Decide how much force and stroke you need and order the actuator and switching mechanism that you want to use. As mentioned above, this can be a simple button or rocker switch, a remote control or an arduino setup.

Step 3

Mount the actuator. Mount the device appropriately for the window you intend to open. Actuonix actuators come with a hardware mounting kit so you won't have to buy anything extra for mounting. Ensure that the actuator has space to move freely and not bind up at any point along it's travel path.

Step 4 

Wire up your switching mechanism according to the data sheet for the switch you're using. You are going to need a power source for this. For indoor applications, most customers use one of our DC power supplies rated at a voltage appropriate to your actuator, either 6V or 12V. 

Related Article: How To Make A DIY Remote Controlled Door Lock

This is one of many household tasks that can be automated using linear actuators.

If you have a project idea and need help choosing the best device to suit your needs, give us a shout via email or phone. Our dedicated sales professionals will be happy to help you choose the best product for you. If our products aren't the best fit for your application, we will always try to recommend another company that can help you out.

Friday, 13 October 2017

2017 FRC Team Sponsorship Winners

The time has come to announce the winners of our 2017 FRC team sponsorships! 

In early 2017, we started looking for new ways to actively support young engineers and robotics enthusiasts. This lead to the creation of two brand new programs - our Scholarship Program and Our FRC Sponsorship Program.

The Actuonix Motion Devices FRC team sponsorship program is brand new for 2017. It was designed as a way for us to give back to the engineering and robotics communities. 

For several years now, we have supported our local FIRST Tech Challenge team and we're excited to reach out to the larger FIRST community and offer more teams the opportunity to win financial and product sponsorships.

I have to say that choosing the winning teams was not easy. We received a big stack of applications that we had to sort through and try to do our best to choose according to demonstrated financial need, teams that had a plan for how to use our products, and of course, those that followed the instructions and applied according to the directions given.

And so, now it's time to announce the winners...

$500USD Financial Sponsorship

Team 6314 - DM Robotics from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Team 1729 - Team Inconceivable! from New Ipswitch, NH.

$250 Product Sponsorship (In-store credit)

Team 6619 - GravitechX from Livermore, California.

Team 2585 - Bellaire Robotics from Houston, Texas.

Team 5618 - From Manseau, Quebec.

Thanks to all of the teams and mentors who took the time to apply and share this opportunity with other teams. We appreciated all of the interest we got in this opportunity and are looking forward to continue supporting FRC (and FTC) teams moving forward.

Winners will be contacted in the near future to tell them how to take advantage of the sponsorship.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Using Linear Actuators For Realistic Animatronics

Building animatronic displays was once solely the domain of professionals in movies and television. These day, there are hobbyists and professionals all over the world working with animatronics. Motion-enabled elements can be found in Halloween and Christmas displays, museums, and of course, just for fun. It's an art that has come a long way in the last couple of decades.

Making robots, puppets and displays move is complicated. It requires skillful use of drive mechanisms, linkages, controllers and mounting techniques. Builders want their projects to move in a smooth, fluid manner to create the illusion of realism. The options available for creating linear motion used to be expensive, complicated to work with or unrealistic in the way they move. 

In 2004 when Actuonix invented the low-cost micro actuator, we opened up a new realm of possibilities to builders of animatronic displays. Of course linear actuators are not new. They have been around for decades in different configurations such as:
  • Hydraulic
  • Pneumatic
  • Electromagnetic
Though these types of actuators have their place, hydraulic and pneumatic tend to be more expensive and complicated than electric actuators. Electromagnetic actuators (such as those found in power door locks) are cheap and easy to come by, but they tend to be underpowered for a lot of projects and lack the ability to stop mid-stroke.

Related post: Micro Linear Actuators in Prosthetics

Electric micro linear actuators allow builders to create smooth linear motion without complicated motor controllers or clunky rods and fittings to convert rotary motion to linear.

Control options

One of the primary advantages of using linear actuators for animatronics is that they offer a wide range of control options. Actuonix offers four series of actuators, each with a unique control method.

S-series - Controlled via reversing polarity. This is great for applications where your prop is controlled by a physical switch or remote control system. They come in 6V or 12V and can run off of a battery or a power supply.

P-series - These offer position feedback and are intended for use with our linear actuator control board. They're ideal for applications where you need to remotely monitor the position of your actuator. They also offer the ability to set custom stroke limits, adjust speed and sensitivity.

R-series - By far the most popular with hobbyists. R-series linear servos have the same 3-wire plug as RC linear servos. If you're familiar with using standard rotary servos via RC or arduino, these are for you. They're just $70 and there's nothing on the market quite like them.

I-series - Our I series actuators feature an internal position controller and several input modes including R/C. They're best suited for industrial applications or enthusiasts who wish to design their own controller.

For a closer look at more of the available options and the pros and cons of each, check out this article by Steve Koci. Steve is a long-time animatronics enthusiast and expert in the field.

If you're considering your options for a project and want some help choosing the best linear actuator for your needs, contact our sales team, we'll be happy to assist you.

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.


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 (or Ingress 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

How To Prevent Actuator 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 failure

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 some 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 rail

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.