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Actuators: What They Are and Why They’re Important

Actuators: What They Are and Why They’re Important

The numerous machines we own contain essential components that allow them to function. The actuator is a component in machines that allow parts to move, and understanding these parts will help us out if we need to repair a machine with actuators. For an in-depth look at the purpose and importance of actuators, read on.

What Do Actuators Do?

The simple definition of an actuator is a conversion of energy into physical motion. This energy may include electrical, air, heat, or hydraulic. Even the human body relies on actuators to move and work.

Whenever we press our foot down on a pedal or extend our arm to push a button, our appendages act as actuators because the brain sends signals to convert energy to move our bodies. Outside of our bodies, actuators function in manufacturing and mechanical engineering. Numerous machines use an actuator to convert energy into the physical movement of a mechanical part.

What Machines Use Actuators?

Many machines use actuators to create physical movement. Any machine with numerous moving parts will have actuators performing functions to create results. Some of the most prominent forms of equipment that use actuators are larger machines with automotive components.

Land Vehicles

Many land vehicles rely on the engine to keep cars running, and a large network of different parts allows these parts to function. Engines with a turbocharger will have actuators in the turbo. The turbo will take in the engine’s exhaust and use it to spin its turbine and compression wheel to take in the cool air that will push into the engine for a powerful ignition.

However, to ensure that the exhaust isn’t too much to handle, a wastegate opens to release the excess exhaust. This wastegate opens with the use of an actuator connected to it. The actuator converts energy into physical movent that opens and seals the wastegate for a controlled burst.

Thanks to the actuator, turbos are popular in the automotive world. Great companies, such as TurboTurbos, have turbo actuators for sale from various brands to improve your engine’s power.

Aquatic Vehicles

Marine vessels will also have an actuator in some parts of their structures. The hatch of a ship is a great example of an actuator on a marine vehicle. The hatch will convert electricity or kinetic energy from the movement of a wheel that slides the locks of the hatch or hoists the hatch upward, opening it.

It’s important to note that actuators will move in a linear pattern, limiting the amount of rotation needed. The wheel or motor of a boat isn’t an actuator, but the parts that may move linearly are.


Planes have actuators that will control the way they fly. The actuators of a plane move the spoilers and the ailerons to keep the plane balanced as it soars through the sky.

The spoilers will move up and down to control the wind resistance and aerodynamics of the plane to help it fly faster. The ailerons will move in lateral movements away from each other on either wing to control rolling maneuvers used by jets. The actuators are powerful on the plane as they need to reinforce the movements of the wing’s parts.

Types of Actuators

Like many machines, actuators come in a variety of formats that use different forms of energy to function. These actuators will have different benefits and drawbacks that affect the machines they are a part of. Therefore, they require varying types of maintenance.


An electric actuator will convert electricity into the physical motion of a mechanical part. These actuators are more common today than others due to the rise in electrical devices.

The electric actuator will usually have a lighter weight, which makes it ideal for smaller machines. However, they will require more complex parts, making the part more expensive. This will affect the cost of the machine that it’s a part of and make repairs more expensive.


When a machine uses hydraulics, the mechanical parts move or activate from fluid pressure running through a tube. The hydraulic actuator will run fluid through a hose or tube to move parts of the machine.

There is a risk of leaking in hydraulic actuators because of the constant fluid pressurization, creating a trade-off between strength and repair. But the hydraulic actuator is still a quality choice in many industries that require lifting or moving heavy objects.


The pneumatic actuator is similar to the hydraulic type but uses air instead of fluid. These actuators are a good middle-ground for actuator types as they are more cost-effective than electric actuators and more resilient than hydraulic actuators.

The air will flow through a vacuum tube, and the pressure will move the actuator, creating a reliable function that doesn’t have as much pressure as fluid. However, the actuator must fit the attached machine for it to move. If there is a disproportion in size, the force may be too much or too little, and the hose may burst from the strain.

The Importance of Actuators

Actuators play an important role in allowing machines to function. Using an actuator saves us the trouble of having to use gears and belts to move parts in a linear motion and allows us to convert various forms of energy into a physical movement. Numerous machines rely on these integral parts, and it’s because of the actuator that we have the ability to perform actions and operate the machines we have.

Actuators don’t often receive as much attention as other parts of a machine, such as the battery or wheel. Still, they are just as important in our machines as they make smaller movements easier and controllable. Without these tools, we wouldn’t have convenient machines that take the hard, manual labor out of a job. That’s why, if a machine’s actuator breaks, it’s important to replace it. Consider what an actuator is and why it’s important as you search for one. While small, these components make a large difference in almost all machines, which you should now understand.

Actuators: What They Are and Why They’re Important

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