Microblog: Choosing a high-precision actuator that fits your needs

Motion control systems are everywhere. The engineering technology is used in practically all industries. High-precision systems that, for example, perform tasks on a nanometer scale demand a different kind of actuator than, let’s say, a robotic arm for packaging in industrial automation. 

Which actuator you need, depends on what you want to achieve and the environment you want it to operate in. And, there are infinite possibilities. With more than forty years of experience in the development and manufacturing of high-precision motion and positioning systems, PI Benelux can help you find the most fitting actuator for your purpose. 

Setting the wheels in motion with an actuator

At PI, we design and produce high-end positioning systems that incorporate linear and rotational movements up to all six degrees of freedom (you can discover more in this blog about the different types of movement and travel ranges). To set the wheels in motion – figuratively of course – you need a drive or actuator. Historically, we have been known for our piezoelectric actuator stacks, but we also make use of electromagnetic actuator principles in our systems. 

The right actuator for your motion challenge

To help you find the right type of actuator for your motion challenge, we first take a few fundamental questions into consideration. What is the use case application? What is the typical travel range and speed, and what are the required accuracies and desired resolution? Are there dynamic constraints such as force, stiffness, and mounting orientation? What are the environmental conditions? We also take the duty cycle into account. 

Electromagnetic actuators

Electromagnetic actuators, such as DC/Stepper Motors, Linear Motors, and Voice Coils are widely used in most industries. They offer the highest precision control in motion and positioning and can be programmed and connected to a network in the blink of an eye. Plus, they can be equipped with sensor feedback. These sensors do not only provide absolute positioning information but are also a vital element when you require real-time information about diagnostics or maintenance. Another benefit of electromagnetic actuators is that they are far quieter than, for example, pneumatic or hydraulic actuators and more reliable in their performance. These types of actuators come in a variety of sizes.

Piezoelectric actuators

Perfectly suited for motion and positioning on a sub-micron and nanometer scale are piezoelectric elements. The ceramic material contains quartz that changes shape when it comes into contact with an electric field and produces mechanical energy that sets a system in motion. The piezo actuators can create enormous forces with just small movements. This is ideal for motion appliances in metrology and medical technology, like surgery devices, medical material handling or 3D scanning, and laser beam steering. 

One of the core-competences of PI is to develop and manufacture best-in-class piezo stacks, to be used in high-end motion applications. A big advantage of piezo actuators over electromagnetic drives is the ability to use them in systems or environments with a strong magnetic field but where magnetic interference is unwanted. That would be impossible to achieve with conventional electronic actuators. Piezo ceramics are also widely used in vacuum or cryogenic environments. Standard electrical and electronic equipment such as motors, scaling systems, connectors or limit switches contain components that are overall not suitable for vacuum applications, since they produce high outgassing rates. We will elaborate more on both non-magnetic environments, as well as on vacuums in another blog.  

 

Need help choosing the best actuator?

Not sure which type of actuator fits your solution in precision motion? We are happy to help. We offer infinite possibilities and can undoubtedly solve your high-end motion challenge.Send me a message by mail or via Linkedin.

 

Sander Slagter
Senior Technical Sales, Engineered Systems at PI Benelux B.V.