Linear actuator manufacturers have a history of strong mechanical design expertise, which is the core of any linear actuation; however, giving motion to modern powered equipment goes beyond a mechanical focus. Today’s innovation challenges demand an equal amount of effort developing software capabilities, interfaces, and controls technology. Manufacturers have taken note and are using the progress in solid-state MOSFETS, sensor technology, and embedded electronics to bring new advantages to electric linear actuators.
Since linear actuators have uses across a wide range of markets — including industrial automation, medical equipment, adjustable furniture, and agricultural machinery — several types of control interfaces are needed. Simple switches and proprietary interfaces can have advantages of simplicity or cost, but are not right for many applications. Protocols including CAN bus, LIN bus, and Modbus can be found in control systems — sometimes integrated directly into the actuators. These protocols allow standardized ways to drive the electric actuators, adjust motion parameters (soft-start, speed control, over-current limits), and read service information (temperature, current) in real time.
Software development tools and processes are also an important area for focus. After initial software development tools that allow basic configurations, newer iterations of these tools give more control than ever to equipment manufacturers. Rather than requiring unique software development for each application, many new systems can be configured onsite by equipment designers. This approach speeds up controls specification and development, and allows quick functional changes.
Since system performance often can depend on control parameters, this is a key advantage of flexible software configuration tools. Experimentation with soft-start and soft-stop, overload detection, position limits, speed control, and critical parallel or synchronous actuation gives designers new advantages when developing with electric linear actuators.
System capabilities are important to consider when selecting any electric linear actuator. Whether a single component or an entire motion control system is needed, ask the supplier what options are available to improve system performance, design flexibility, and serviceability.
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