Rotary vs. Linear Pneumatic Actuators: What You Need to Know

If you had to make a list of some of the most important advancements that can keep your business running efficiently, productively and safely, industrial automation would undoubtedly be right at the top. Not only can it help automate repetitive tasks to help employees focus on those matters that truly need their attention, but it’s also a larger driver of business growth – which may in and of itself be the most critical benefit of all.

One of the most important things to understand about industrial automation is that, ultimately, the specific type of actuator you need will be dictated by the type of movement you need to accomplish. An actuator, by design, is a device that helps other machines achieve very precise physical movements.

Generally speaking, actuators fall into two distinct categories: rotary actuators and linear actuators. The former is designed to revolve over a set amount of distance – they can do so in 90 degrees, 180 degrees or even 360 degrees. The latter does so in a straight line, meaning the movement happens either forwards or backwards. Both have their own unique applications, and they each bring with them a wide range of different benefits that cannot be overlooked.

Linear vs Rotary Actuators: An Overview

For starters, linear actuators are actually a common component in a lot of the devices we use throughout our daily lives. This is because linear movement itself is so essential to how these things work. They’re found in everything from personal computers (particularly when it comes to hard disk drives) to entertainment devices like gaming consoles and more. More specifically, they’re also found in industrial equipment wherever movement is necessary but also needs to move over a specific distance and then stop.

Depending on the application, linear actuators are either powered by air, via electricity, or through hydraulic fluid. They’re very reliable, are cost-efficient, and are very beneficial to the world of industrial automation.

More often than not, linear pneumatic actuators are an ideal selection whenever an automated system needs to be finely controlled. They’re defined by their very defined strokes, their fast response times, and also their high force capabilities. Some linear pneumatic actuators are capable of producing force up to 3,000 or more pounds, for example. Having said that, low pressure options are also available when slow, smooth motions are required.

In addition to a high level of repeatability, linear pneumatic actuators bring with them smooth operation, relatively easy maintenance, and additional benefits like a compact design. Depending on the type of actuator you invest in they’re also very durable – making them ideal for situations that require operation in harsh environments. They’re versatile and safe, which is ultimately a big part of the reason why they’ve become so popular in such a short amount of time.

They’re also used in a wide range of different industries, including but not limited to ones like packaging, material handling, the automotive industry, the aerospace industry and others – all in addition to factory automation environments.

This is in contrast to a rotary actuator, which accomplishes a similar goal but in an entirely different way. They, too, can be pneumatic, hydraulic or electric when it comes to how they’re powered. As opposed to linear pneumatic actuators, however, they’re far less limited in terms of the motion they’re capable of creating. Within the context of industrial automation, not only can they travel over specified distances, but they can also create consistent, repeated motions – like spinning, for just one example.

Typically, a rotary actuator would be used in any context where an automated system needs to travel at an angular path. An arm that lifts and turns products during the assembly process would be a good example of this.

Rotary actuators also offer a host of distinct advantages. In addition to high levels of torque and a hollow shaft, they offer zero backlash and a large range of different diameters. They also offer relatively low maintenance, and are acceptable in even harsh environments. They lend themselves to applications that require high repeatability and have excellent positioning accuracy, too.

In the end, the specific type of air actuator that you need will obviously depend on the use case you have in mind. In an industrial automation context, rotary actuators lend themselves to situations like CNC machining, certain types of medical equipment, semiconductors and more. Linear pneumatic actuators, on the other hand, have a valuable role to play in the pharmaceutical and even in the defense industries.

Only by carefully considering the specific application you have in mind will you be able to determine which option is best to meet your needs.

If you’d like to find out more information about the major differences between rotary and linear pneumatic actuators, or if you have any additional questions you’d like to discuss with someone in a bit more detail, please don’t hesitate to contact the team at JHFOSTER today.