Rotary Actuators: Do You Know These Tech Improvements?

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Rotary actuators are common components in equipment where movement is necessary. In fact, actuators are so common that it’s presumed that everyone knows the basics about them and how they work.

Whether you’ve forgotten some of the fundamentals or are just learning, here’s everything you need to know about rotary actuators.

The Beginning

An actuator is a motor that controls the moving of a specific mechanism. A rotary actuator is an actuator that creates movement or rotation. There are two types of pneumatic rotary actuators: vane and rack & pinion.

Both types of pneumatic rotary actuators use compressed air to create the pressure necessary to achieve the rotary movement.

  • Vane Actuator: the vane actuator has a vane, mounted on a central shaft inside of a cylindrical chamber. When pressure is applied to one side of the vane it is forced to rotate as it moves forward, or strokes. When pressure is applied to the other side, the shaft is forced back.


  • Rack and Pinion Actuator: the rack and pinion actuator has a cylindrical piston that attaches to a gear rack. When pressure is applied the piston and the rack move, rotating the shaft. There are rack and pinion actuators that have two racks on opposite sides of the piston which increases the torque of the unit.

How Have Rotary Actuators Changed?

It used to be that rotary actuators were only available as linear systems which could only move the piston in one direction and at one speed. Not super flexible.

Now, rotary actuators are available as hydraulic and electronic mechanisms as well as pneumatic and have varying stroke lengths with varying speeds. Much more flexible.

They are a key component to saving money, energy, and driving production. Because they have such a key role in so much of our equipment, from industrial to recreational, it’s no wonder that keeping them clean and in prime working order has become a major focus.

Did you know? Parker Hannifin created a new cylinder to address some of these issues head-on. Their Intellinder sensor is designed to stand up to harsh environments and provide accurate position monitoring.

How Actuators Are Moving Into The Future

It’s no secret that to move ahead you have to be mindful of two very important factors: increased productivity and environmental impact. Consumers want their equipment to be quiet, fast, efficient, smaller, and with a decreased impact on the environment around them.

Many manufacturers are finding the answer in simple design and installation changes.

From innovations like the Parker Intellinder sensor that feeds pertinent, real-time information, to improvements in the materials used in construction, actuators are now able to perform longer, withstand harsher environments, and can even let you know when they need servicing before anything goes wrong.

Rotary Actuator innovation makes a difference

The creative and forward thinking of engineers to incorporate sensor technology into the use of cylinders has allowed some of the biggest gains in performance improvement, robustness in harsh environmental conditions, and maintaining a minimal impact on the environment.

By incorporating sensors directly onto the mechanism, you can now measure load, position, and temperature. The rod can be read from multiple sensors at different points allowing for a comparison of readings for redundancy and accuracy.

Stay Informed, Stay On Top 

While there is no telling what creative and innovative advancements will come next, it’s safe to say that cutting-edge technology will be a driving force. In the meantime, it’s a safe bet to fall back on what you know.

Even the most advanced piece of equipment will become worthless if you don’t know how to properly install it and use it. That knowledge comes from going back to the basics. By understanding what a rotary actuator is and how it was originally designed to work, you can feel assured you’ll be able to handle the next wave of modern innovation.