How Does an Actuator Work?

September 8, 2021

Did you know that actuators exist in everything from electric motors to kids' toys? Actuators are known for being big industrial hydraulic arms. Despite this, not many know they're a surprising addition to many parts of your life. You never even knew you would need an actuator for most!

So in this article, we take a look at how actuators work. We also look at their best use case and the different types of actuators available.

What Is an Actuator?

An actuator is a mechanical device that relies on energy conversion. Actuators convert electricity into physical movement. They're also popular as a mechanical force to move objects.

Actuators can also combine with motors when producing rotational force. For example, they help move the throttle of an automobile engine or the valves in a steam boiler. They're also combined with pumps when transferring fluid from one place to another.

Types of Actuator

There are two main types of actuators: electromechanical and hydraulic. Electromechanical actuators use electrical power to convert into mechanical motion. Hydraulic actuators rely on pressurized fluids for their operation.

Both have advantages and disadvantages depending upon what type of application you need.

For example, suppose your project needs high torque output. Then, an electric motor would be best suited. If you want something with low friction and longer life, then a rexroth hydraulic pump might be better.

How Does an Actuator Work?

The basic principle behind how any actuator works is simple enough. Some input causes some reaction. In most cases, this means that we're using electricity to turn gears inside our actuator.

It allows us to control the amount of rotation that occurs at each gear. We could even make these gears rotate back and forth instead of forward and backward. There are many different ways to do this, but the result will always be more or less rotation.

The way that actuators operate varies based on the specific design. Some designs need very little energy, while others take up a lot of space and weigh tons.

Most modern actuators contain many stages. That way, they can provide greater amounts of torque than single-stage units.

Use Cases of Actuators

Actuators occur in a variety of settings, from industrial to commercial. Here are some use cases:

Industrial Applications

In industry, actuators often automate machinery. They're able to attach onto machines like lathes, drills, or mounted onto robots. These actuators allow operators to control the machine without having to touch it at all.

Commercial Applications

Actuators are often placed near doors or windows to open and close by themselves. You'll find them in elevators, door openers, or even vending machines!

Automotive Applications

Most automobiles today come equipped with electronic fuel injection systems. These systems help regulate the flow rate of gasoline through the car's carburetor and allow for valve automation.

Typical systems consist of several solenoids that actuate various parts of the system. When activated, these solenoids cause certain components to change position.

Household Applications

Actuators are common in household appliances. Some examples include:

  • Automatic Garage Door Openers
  • Doorbells
  • Toasters
  • Refrigerators
  • Washing Machine
  • Microwave Ovens
  • Water Heaters
  • Heating/Cooling Systems
  • Sewer Pumps
  • Garbage Disposals

There are, of course, many more than this list. But these examples are some of the most common ones you'd find around your home.

Actuators for Every Use Case

So now you know all about actuators. Whether you're interested in using them for industrial purposes or around the home. Actuators enabled many of the world's greatest inventions to achieve great success.

Keep reading for more content that drives success!


Carlos Diaz
I believe in making the impossible possible because there’s no fun in giving up. Travel, design, fashion and current trends in the field of industrial construction are topics that I enjoy writing about.

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