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.
Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Micro Linear Actuators from Actuonix vs. Other Retailers



Actuonix has been manufacturing micro linear actuators since 2004. When we say 'manufacturing', we mean that we design our products in-house. Our team of engineers designs every one of our actuators from scratch, right here in Canada.

Before Actuonix (formerly Firgelli Technologies) started making micro linear actuators, there was nothing of the kind on the market. There were small actuators, but nothing in our price range and many of them were difficult to use, requiring complicated control systems.

In recent years we have seen products that look very similar to our L16 line of micro linear actuators appearing in various web stores as well as on EBay and Amazon. This is not a coincidence. Though slightly different in appearance, these products were designed to be a copy of our popular L16 models.

On top is our L16 micro linear actuator,  the device below is the knockoff model available from a few different outfits online.

micro linear actuator


Today, I want to talk frankly about our products, as well as these other actuators, and show you why we think that Actuonix is the superior choice.

So let’s get started…

Our actuators are an original design – designed by our in-house team of engineers in Canada. These other actuators are actually a copy of our original design. Several years ago, our L16 actuator was given to a Chinese factory by a competitor so that they can produce a copy of our product. These actuators are the end result of that effort.

Online retailers that claim to ‘manufacture’ these units are misleading their customers. They did not design nor manufacture their actuators, they simply order the units from a factory listed on Alibaba and apply their company sticker.  That’s why there are so many different outfits selling these identical copies of our product, whereas the original Actuonix actuators have our name molded into the plastic housing, and are only sold under our name. 

The failure rate on our actuators is extremely low thanks to our thorough testing department. Every single unit is tested at our Canadian facility by our expert staff before it ships. If a unit does not make the quality cut, it doesn’t ship, simple as that. This is how we are able to keep our failure rate to the customer incredibly low.  Other retailers are just that, retailers. As such they have no facility or personnel to test every actuator.  They rely on the QC capability of the factory in China, and we all know how reliable that can be.
 
We stand behind our products, it is rare for our customers to have issues, but if they do, we do everything we can to ensure that they remain a happy customer. Even if they’re outside the warranty period, we try to work with our customers to try and resolve the situation to their satisfaction.

Custom micro linear actuators and bulk orders

I want to talk for a minute about buying in bulk. We sell thousands of our micro linear actuators to OEM manufacturers all over the world. Other than the quality and diversity of our products, a main reason that they continue to buy from us is that we offer the lowest bulk pricing for both stock units and custom linear actuators.

Because we manufacture our own products, we control the supply chain completely. This allows us to negotiate volume pricing on many individual components when we order large quantities. We love passing those savings down to customers who purchase our actuators in bulk.  Some other retailers may try to act as a middle man between you and the factory in China, which leaves you vulnerable to their ability to communicate. 

We also have the manufacturing muscle to get your large order built in a reasonable length of time. We have manufacturers who order from us by the thousands of units, and they are consistently impressed by our lead times. That’s another benefit of being completely in control of the manufacturing process.

Selection

Actuonix also has more micro actuator models than anybody. At the time of this video, we have 164 unique models. These models come in strokes of 10mm, 20mm, 30mm, 50mm, 100mm, 140mm, 200mm and 300mm and a wide variety of gearing options plus a variety of accessories such as switches, remote controls, power supplies and control boards. Our team is always developing new products. We are in fact about to release a completely new line of actuators in the coming weeks so keep an eye out for that.

Shipping

Regarding shipping, all of our in-stock orders are shipped every day at 2pm. We offer UPS as a shipping service. We only offer UPS because as a high-volume customer, we are able to negotiate the best rates through them. We pass our great shipping rates on to the customer. You only pay what we pay for shipping; Actuonix does not use shipping as a revenue generation device. We can ship on your account as well using UPS, DHL or FedEX. All orders come with a tracking number.
best Micro linear actuators
Bottom: Actuonix Actuator tubed, wrapped and padded before shipment

All of our actuators come packaged in a protective tube, wrapped in paper and in a box padded with more packing material. Some of these competitor's devices come just sitting in a box with some paper. Your shipment is not well-protected this way.

Pricing

Our actuators range in price from $65-90USD. The pricing on our actuators varies depending on model and control type. These knockoff micro linear actuators cost between $64.99 and $69.99. We don't play the .99 game. We know our customers are aware that $69.99 is one cent less than $70.

The pricing looks similar on the surface but a key thing to remember is that when you buy from Actuonix, a hardware kit comes included with your actuator and contains everything you need to mount the actuator to your project. This kit is customized for the unit you purchase and includes a threaded end-tip that you can use for custom mounting. You also get a connector on the wire harness which the other actuators do not have. Of course if you do not need it, you can always just cut it off.

Project Sponsorships and Scholarships

Actuonix is always looking for new ways to give back to the engineering community. Just this year we have launched an engineering scholarship program as well as a FIRST Robotics Challenge team sponsorship program.

Additionally, we are always on the hunt for interesting humanitarian, student and hobbyist projects to sponsor. A few projects we have had the privilege of sponsoring this year include:


Service

We have service staff in-store from 7:30am to 3:30pm PST Monday through Friday excluding national and provincial holidays. We try to answer every call. If we're busy and can't answer your call, we are usually able to return your call same-day. The same is true for email; our typical response time during business hours is less than half an hour.

We know that the value and service Actuonix offers with every sale is second to none. We want to thank all of our loyal customers who have helped us become the most trusted name in the micro motion business. We look forward to working with you for years to come.
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.