Wednesday, 21 February 2018

How To Control A Linear Servo With Your Phone Via Bluetooth


We use our phones for much of what we do these days, but did you know that you can control a linear servo with your cell phone?

There are dozens of different ways to control linear actuators. From simple switches to more complex PLCs, RC control and arduino - no matter what you're trying to build, there's a control type to suit your needs.

After seeing a video on YouTube demonstrating how to control a servo with bluetooth and an android phone, I thought it would be fun to do something similar with a linear servo.

We've never covered this before because our wireless linear actuator remote control is a good solution for most who want to drive their actuator remotely.

If you want to control your linear servo using your cell phone or tablet and bluetooth, you can build your own setup just like we've got here for around $150

Step 1 - Collect Your Parts

Linear Servo Bluetooth Control Circuit Parts
Bluetooth Linear Actuator Circuit

Now that you have your parts, it's time to get cracking on putting it all together. In this example, I'm using two different power supplies - one for the arduino board, and one for the actuator. The actuator will function driven directly from an arduino board but generally it is recommended to power it separately.

This can be accomplished using just an HC-05 bluetooth module but it's easier to just get the shield, plug it in and you're good to go.

Step 2 - Wire Up Your Circuit

linear actuator bluetooth


Step 3 - Download The App

You'll need to download a servo motor control app to your device. There are quite a few apps out there, we're using Arduino Servo Motor Control. Of the ones we tried, this one was the most reliable. It can be found here.

Step 4 - Upload Your Code

You're going some arduino code to control your servo. Fortunately the developer of the Arduino Motor Control app offers a simple bit of code that makes it simple to get going if you're not good with code (like me). There is a link to the code sample on the app's description here.

Step 5 - Connect Your Phone To The Bluetooth Module

I don't go into detail about how to accomplish this but it's more or less the same as connecting any other bluetooth device to your phone. The documentation for the both the bluetooth module and shield can be found under the 'Useful Links' tab on the RobotShop product page.

Step 6 - Build Something Awesome

Now you're connected, you can use the app to drive your linear servo in and out using the slider within the app.


Here is a video demonstrating the setup outlined above.


Thursday, 25 January 2018

Electric vs. Pneumatic Actuators



When it comes to designing a motion-enabled machine, engineers often have to decide between different types of actuators. Two of the most common actuators available are Electric and Pneumatic.

 A linear actuator is a fairly common device that is capable of moving a load in a straight line. It converts energy into mechanical movement to achieve some purpose.

That said, engineers developing new machines and processes need to consider a wide range of variables when deciding which device will best suit their purpose.

Linear actuators are available in dozens of different styles and choosing which to use in a project is no easy task. Pneumatic and electric actuator systems are very different and one can not easily be replaced with the other. Of course, each technology has it's advantages and disadvantages. That's what we're going to cover in this post.

Should you use electric or pneumatic actuators in your industrial application? It can be a complicated decision to make, as they're functionally similar, but have some key differences.


Pneumatic Linear Actuator

Pneumatic actuators are cylinders that are driven by compressed air. They are best suited to applications that require a high force and speed with a defined stroke. The pros and cons of pneumatic linear actuators include:


Advantages

  • Tend to be inexpensive when compared to other actuator systems
  • Great for large systems with many actuators. Typically with pneumatic systems, the more actuators in the system, the lower the cost per unit to maintain
  • High force and small size

Disadvantages

  • Not ideal for applications that require different stroke lengths at different times. They tend to operate from end of stroke to end of stroke
  • Not ideal for applications where precision positioning is required
  • Air lines that are required to run a pneumatic system tend to make the system less reliable.

Screw Drive Electric Actuators

A screw drive actuator takes the rotational force of an electric motor (brushed, stepper or AC) and converts it to linear motion by driving a nut in and out along a threaded screw. Usually this is through a gearbox to allow customization of the power/speed ratio.

Electric linear actuators are best suited to applications where precise positioning, unit customization or a wide range of control options is required. They tend to have a lower cost for small-scale operations as it's not necessary to run a compressor and air lines.


Advantages

  • Different motor options available depending on your needs. Brushed DC actuators are powerful and fairly accurate whereas stepper motors have less force, but operate with higher preceision
  • Lower cost on a moderate scale
  • Wide range of control options
  • Lower maintenance than pneumatic systems as there are no air lines to rupture

Disadvantages

  • Electric actuators have more components within the device, and can have a higher unit cost than pneumatic.
  • Not always well suited for high-speed applications.
  • Tradeoff between speed and force.

Choosing What's Right For You

When comparing the benefits of electric vs. pneumatic actuators, it's important to look at the component costs and life expectancy of each system. While the initial cost of electric actuators can be higher due to their modular design, maintenance and other operational costs associated with pneumatic systems tend to be considerably higher. There's also the downtime and hassle associated with identifying and repair air leaks in a complex pneumatic system.

We believe that for most small-mid-size operations, installing electric actuators can result in considerably lower costs over time.

If you would like to some help choosing which type of system is right for your project, give our experienced sales team a call or email, they will be happy to assist you.
Thursday, 18 January 2018

How To Change An Actuator Rod End-Tip



actuator end tip

No matter how much we expand our product offering, it's impossible to have the exact solution for every single application. Every now and then our customers contact us asking about ways that they can modify their device to better suit their needs.

One of the more common requests that we get is from customers who want to change their actuator's end tip. Fortunately, this is possible and fairly simple.


All of our micro linear actuators come with a standard clevis end tip installed. Additionally, we include a threaded end tip with our hardware kit to give you a different option for mounting. 

Engineering a motion solution can be difficult, and it can be more so if you're restricted to using a specific actuator end tip. Over the years, we have had several of our customers build their own custom end tip solutions. 

This opens up a new realm of possibility as you can choose to make your tip any size and shape you like according to your specifications. You can also create your end tip from a material that suits your needs. 

Our stock units come with plastic tips, but you can make end tips from different plastics, aluminum, brass or whatever you like. If you want to make your own end tip, the internal thread designation is M8x1.25. 

The actuator end tip is screwed into the end of the shaft, which in turn is threaded onto a delrin fiberglass drive nut within the actuator.

Incorrect removal or installation of the end tip can damage this nut. There are a few steps that are vital to ensuring that you do not damage your actuator while attempting to modify or replace the tip. I'm going to cover them below. Please follow this procedure closely.

If you'd rather watch the process, here's a video on how to change a linear actuator end tip.


1. Extend the actuator to it's full outward stroke.

2. Grip the actuator shaft firmly with your fingers - It is very important to stabilize the shaft against rotation at this point. The internal drive nut inside the actuator can not tolerate much rotary force and can be broken by a firm twisting motion, rendering your actuator useless. 

3. Using a screwdriver or other object, turn the end tip counterclockwise to release the tip.

4. Follow the same procedure to install your new end tip. The torque specification for the end tip is 7 inch pounds. If you do not have a small torque wrench handy, it's best just to tighten it finger tight to avoid busting your drive nut. That's all.

That it! Replacing your actuator end tip is a pretty simple process that can help simplify your design and meet your specific goals.

Need help with choosing the best actuator for your project? Give us a shout at sales@actuonix.com or call us at 1-888-225-9198.


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Custom Linear Actuators

Custom linear actuators

Do you need a custom linear actuator for your next product or project? Actuonix Motion Devices can help. We pride ourselves on manufacturing the largest selection of affordable micro actuators available. Even still, we regularly get requests from customers who require a custom actuation solution that is outside of our regular range of products.

Custom Linear Actuators That Meet YOUR Specifications

At Actuonix, we manufacture all of our products. Unlike some of our competitors, our team of engineers designs every piece of our actuators from our headquarters in Western Canada. Because we control the entire production process, we can alter our designs to suit your needs.

Do Custom Electric Actuators Require A Minimum Order Quantity?

Yes, we require a minimum MOQ of 500 for basic actuator modifications. The MOQ may be more or less depending on what your particular needs are. Below are some examples of customizations that we can produce with a minimum order quantity of 500 units.

Change Electrical Connector

There are lots of different types of connectors out there. If you're installing many actuators in your project, it might be worth having us customize a cable for you. Installing a custom linear actuator cable to match what's already available on your device will save you time and money.

Longer Or Shorter Connection Wire

Not only can we change the cable, we can also customize the length of the cable. Whether you want your cables to be 2 inches or 20 inches, we can work with you to produce a custom cable that will work for your application.

Modifying Limit Switch Position

Our internal limit switches are non-adjustable. There are other ways to limit the stroke of your actuator that might work for you. If you're ordering a large quantity of linear actuators and you want to limit the stroke without the use of external switches or an LAC board, talk to our sales team about modifying a stock product to your specifications. We will have the switches repositioned at our factory.

Shortening Actuator Stroke 

If simply limiting actuator travel wouldn't work for you, and you need a device with a physically shorter stroke than what we offer, we can do that as well. We do this type of actuator customization for our existing customers already and know the process inside and out.

Custom Rod End Attachments

All of our micro linear actuators (with the exception of our NXT and T16 lines) come with the stock clevis end tip. You will also find a threaded end tip inside the included hardware kit. Most of our clients are able to make one of these tips work for them. If however, you require a different means of attachment, we can work with you to design an end tip that will integrate seamlessly into your design.

Fitting A Motor/Gearbox With A Custom Gear Ratio

Though our line of electric actuators comes with a variety of gearing options, there are others available. We can work with our motor supplier to provide actuators with a custom gear ratio to better suit your force and speed requirements.

Changing Lubricants To Facilitate Low-Temp Operation

If you are planning on operating our miniature actuators in an extreme environment, you may need to order devices with a custom gear oil to facilitate low-temperature operations. The stock gear oil works well in a wide range of temperatures but can become too thick when subjected to extremely low temperatures.

In addition to the linear actuator customizations mentioned above, we can make more significant design alterations up to and including designing an entirely new product. The minimum order quantity for major customization begins at 2000 units.

If you're looking for an affordable custom actuator for your next product design, you're in the right place. Nobody can match Actuonix's selection of actuators. And if none of our 164 stock models works for you, we can make something that will, and we can do it within your budget.

We want to you get the right micro linear actuator for your needs, at the an affordable price. That's why we included a complete mounting hardware kit with every actuator we sell. Other companies charge $8-10 for just the hardware kit. 

Contact us today to learn more about our custom linear actuator solutions.


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

How To Use Relays To Control Linear Actuators

linear actuator with relay


In this post I'm going to go over how to use a relay to control the motion of a linear actuator. I'll cover not only how to use a relay to control your actuator, but also some situations where you might want to. We offer a simple relay kit in our store that is designed to work with electric micro linear actuators.

For larger projects, there are relay boards available with 2, 4 and even 8 channels. You can find larger relays at RobotShop.

What Is A Relay

A relay is simply a switching mechanism. It allows you to control a big switch with a smaller switch without the current of the primary load running through the smaller switch. 

This is important in applications where only a small amount of current is available to control a switch as well as applications where the switch you want to use is not rated for the current your load requires.

How A Relay Works

As I mentioned above, a relay adds a second switch into your system. Basically, a relay is just a switch that is controlled by a smaller switch.

They work by using a small current form the input source to activate an electromagnet. The electromagnet pulls a switch and allows a higher current to flow through the opposite side of the relay. It's a cheap and effective way to switch a larger load.

Why Use A Relay

Sometimes you want or need to use a switch that is not rated for the load of the device you're working with. This requires a relay to switch the higher load. 

Another example is if you're using a microcomputer or microcontroller such as a Raspberry Pi or an Arduino. They are only capable of a very small electrical output. A relay would be required to handle any significant electrical load.

If you're interested in driving a single actuator via Arduino. Our -R series linear servos might be a better option for you. Many Arduino boards are capable of driving one actuator directly off the board and since they're a plug and play replacement for standard rotary servos, they're easy to use.

 Some Examples of When You Might Want To Use A Relay

Vehicle Applications

Relays are popular for vehicle automation applications. They are ideal because it's possible to tap into an existing circuit within the vehicle to use as a switch for the relay. An example would be if you're using actuators to drive pop-up headlights, a relay could activate them when you turn on your headlights or even your ignition.

The low-power side of a relay draws very little current so it's often possible to tap into an existing circuit without drawing too much current for the circuit to handle.

Low-Current Applications

This could be any microcontroller application. We have thousands of customers using our actuators with Arduino. Adding in a relay kit makes switching power on and off safe and fairly simple. 

Momentary Applications

By using our DPDT relay, you can make your actuator extend with the push of a button, and retract automatically when you release the button. By reversing the actuator's two leads, it's possible to reverse this effect. This would cause the actuator to remain extended full-time, and retract at the push of a button.

How To Connect The Actuonix Relay Kit

I've included a wiring diagram below that shows you exactly how to connect your actuator to the Actuonix relay kit. These wiring instructions remain the same whether you're using a latching or momentary switch.


linear actuator relay


We filmed a video recently to demonstrate how you can use our DPDT relay kit to actuate your device momentarily and have it retract automatically.

Our actuator relay kit is just one of the many linear actuator accessories we carry. In our store you'll find a full line of actuator controllers, switches and accessories to make sure that you can control your device the way that you want to.

Are you planning to use a linear actuator in your next project but need some help choosing the right device for you? Give our experienced sales team a call at 1-888-225-9198. They will be happy to assist you.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Feedback Actuators


We understand that it can be a little complicated to distinguish between actuators. There are position feedback actuators, limit switched actuators, internally controlled actuators, RC actuators, and that's just the micro stuff. When you move into larger actuators there's a whole different host of options and styles for you to choose from.

Today, I'm going to walk you through what a position feedback actuator is, how it works, and what types of applications they are intended to be used in.

What is a Position Feedback Actuator?

Simply put, a feedback actuator is capable of telling you what position it is at. Position feedback actuators can be operated the same way as -S series actuators using reversing polarity on the positive and negative leads. However, because they don't have end limit switches, the feedback signal is intended to be used with a device that can stop the actuator at it's end limit. Running a feedback actuator into it's end stop can reduce it's lifespan considerably.

How Do Feedback Actuators Work?

Feedback actuators feature an internal potentiometer. This potentiometer sends out a position signal that can be read by our LAC board. It is possible to monitor the position of a feedback actuator remotely using our LED position indicator.

How Is A Feedback Actuator Different From A Standard Actuator?

A standard linear actuator has 2 wires and is very simple to operate. When you apply appropriate power to the 2 wires, the actuator will extend. Reversing polarity on the two leads will cause the device to retract. Generally, they feature end limit switches and are designed to stop when they hit their end stroke. Running them to the end of their stroke is considered normal use and typically,  shouldn't shorten the life of the device.

How Can I Spot A Feedback Actuator

There are two ways that you can tell if an Actuonix device is a feedback actuator. The first is by looking at the model number. All of our feedback actuators end with a 'P', for example 10-210-12-P. The other way you can tell is by looking at the lead. 'P' series actuators all feature a 5-wire plug. 
position feedback actuator

Why should you choose a feedback actuator

A feedback actuator is the best choice for applications where you want to remotely monitor the position of your actuator. Using a position feedback device with our Linear Actuator Control Board also gives you control over how you drive your actuator and how it functions.

Using the LAC Board you can control your actuator via:


  • RC Input
  • PWM
  • Voltage
  • Current
  • USB
This setup also allows you to adjust your actuator's:

  • Speed
  • Sensitivity
  • Extend limit
  • Retract limit

As you can see, using a feedback actuator can be a little bit more complicated than a standard device, but it offers a lot more flexibility when it comes to adjustment and customization.

All of our feedback actuators can be found here.




Tuesday, 31 October 2017

How To Use A Linear Actuator Control Board With Arduino

Arduino linear actuator control


Over the past few years, our support department has been receiving more and more questions about how to use a linear actuator with Arduino. We have never officially offered Arduino support. We have a couple of resources on our website and we've directed many people to Robot Geek and a couple of other Arduino pros.

The problem with this is that none of those resources cover how to drive a -P series linear actuator via Arduino and a Linear Actuator Control (LAC) board.

I thought it was time that I did a basic tutorial on how to accomplish this. I'm going to show you how to make the physical connection between the two boards, as well as cover a couple of common issues that our customers have. This will serve as the basis for any additional learning you may want to do with Arduino and linear actuators.

We'll start by going through the things that you will need to operate an actuator via Arduino.

1. -P Series Micro Linear Actuator

Our -P series micro linear actuators are designed to be operated via our LAC board. Using the board's RC input mode, you can effectively control your -P series actuator as you would an RC linear servo.

You can only use -P series feedback actuators with the LAC board. -R, -S and -I actuators will not work.

2. LAC board

As mentioned above, our LAC board was developed parallel to our -P series actuators, and the two are meant to be used together. The LAC board will also work with some larger actuators that offer position feedback. We do not sell such actuators however and can not offer support for this usage.

3. Arduino Board

We often use an Arduino Mega or an UNO around here for various experimentation and testing.

3. Source of Power

You will need either a battery or a power supply to power both your Arduino board and your LAC board. The power supply for your LAC must match the voltage of the actuator and the power supply for your Arduino must be appropriate for the board.

4. Potentiometer Or Another Way To Drive The Actuator

You will need a control mechanism of some type if you want to drive the actuator manually. You can also cycle the actuator using code, which is what we have done here. The code used to drive the actuator in our example is a modified version of the 'servo-sweep' example found in the Arduino library.

Why use an LAC board with Arduino

Using an -R series linear actuator is the simplest way to drive a linear actuator via Arduino. The -R actuators use the same 3-wire connector as a standard hobby servo. The LAC board however, offers a couple of advantages over just using Arduino and an -R series micro linear servo.

The first is that the LAC board allows you to monitor the position of the actuator using the position feedback signal. This is ideal for situations where you can't see the actuator, but want to monitor where it is along it's stroke.

Another reason to use an LAC and -P series device is that the LAC board offers you direct control over certain aspects of how the actuator functions. The LAC has 4 pots on it that allow you to control speed, sensitivity, and both extended and retracted end-of-stroke limits.

Of course, this setup might just happen to be what you have on-hand. If that's the case, keep reading and I'll show you how to get your setup working via arduino.

Wiring The LAC To The Arduino

There are a few things to understand when you're trying to use an LAC via Arduino:

  • First, as mentioned above, you are going to need an external power supply. You can use the same power supply to power both your Arduino board and your LAC board provided the input voltage of your Actuator and your Arduino is the same, but each board must be powered directly.
  • Second, the Arduino and LAC must share a common ground to function correctly. This is the most common issue our customers have when trying to drive their actuators this way.

Below is a wiring diagram showing how we've connected the  LAC board to our Arduino Uno.

linear actuator control board via arduino


The actuator is plugged into the board as usual. We're using the RC output on the LAC to connect the Arduino board via standard RC cable (red/black/white). The red wire has been cut at the LAC as it's not used. The black wire runs from the RC plug on the LAC to gnd on the arduino board. This is the common ground we mentioned before. The white RC wire runs from the RC output on the LAC to pin-9 on the Arduino.

That's it for interfacing the LAC and arduino, but now you need power. We have powered the LAC with a 12V power supply (this matches the 12V actuator) into the + and - terminals on the X6 block, as per the LAC datasheet.The Arduino board is powered by it's own 6V power supply with positive plugged into the -vin terminal, and - plugged into -gnd.

As for code, we used a slightly modified version of the Servo-Sweep example found the Arduino software.

As you can see, this is a relatively basic way to cycle the actuator in and out.

If you are so inclined, you can use your own code and a switch of your choosing to actuate the device another way. This could be via a push button, proximity sensor or any other Arduino-compatible sensor you choose


Below is the code that we used for this example. It is the basic Servo-Sweep example code from within the Arduino software. The only part we modified is the delay.

#include <Servo.h>

Servo myservo;  // create servo object to control a servo
// twelve servo objects can be created on most boards

int pos = 0;    // variable to store the servo position

void setup() {
  myservo.attach(9);  // attaches the servo on pin 9 to the servo object
}

void loop() {
  for (pos = 0; pos <= 180; pos += 1) { // goes from 0 degrees to 180 degrees
    // in steps of 1 degree
    myservo.write(pos);              // tell servo to go to position in variable 'pos'
    delay(30);                       // waits 15ms for the servo to reach the position
  }
  for (pos = 180; pos >= 0; pos -= 1) { // goes from 180 degrees to 0 degrees
    myservo.write(pos);              // tell servo to go to position in variable 'pos'
    delay(30);                       // waits 15ms for the servo to reach the position
  }
}