What Are Electromagnetic Actuators and Their Designs?

Actuators are common devices found within a number of systems, serving to convert a control signal into manageable mechanical energy. As a form of energy converter, actuators produce motion that is rotary and linear, enabling basic machine functionality for countless apparatuses. Actuators often vary in their design and capabilities, and a major way to classify such devices is through the principle that enables their energy conversion capabilities. Hydraulic, pneumatic, thermal, electrostatic, and electromechanical types are all options that one may use, each differing in their performance and applications. In this blog, we will be discussing the electromagnetic actuator in particular, allowing you to better understand its design and uses.

During typical operations, whether being present within an automobile or electrical protection system, an electromagnetic actuator serves to transform electrical energy into mechanical energy, or vice versa. In order to perform such duties, an electromagnetic actuator design relies on the principle of electromagnetism, Faraday’s law of electromagnetic induction, Lorentz force of electromagnetic forces, and Biot-Savart’s law. While electromagnetic actuators often feature lower performance than more robust types, they still have many advantages. For example, they offer robust and reliable functionality, are easy to mass-produce, integrate in mechatronic systems with ease, withstand harsh environmental conditions, and have high force density and acceleration.

While all electromagnetic actuators have an actuating quantity that is electric current, there are diverse subtypes that exist for varying applications. For example, DC and AC motors are machines that convert electrical energy into mechanical energy, and they do this through the use of a stator and rotor. With the stator, a magnetic field can be generated through the supply of electrical energy, and the rotor will rotate in accordance with the Lorentz force principle. While the actuating quantity of DC motors is direct current, AC motors have an alternating current actuating quantity. Both types of motors have various subtypes, all of which differ based on how the magnetic field is generated or how current flows.

Solenoids are another major example of electromagnetic actuators, and they are the most common and simple options. An electromagnetic solenoid actuator may produce linear or rotational motion, and they rely on an assembly containing a soft iron core, coil, and armature. When the coil induces a magnetic field in response to being energized, the armature will be adjusted, causing a movement for actuation. Electromagnetic solenoid actuator components come in one of two types, those of which are linear and rotary variations. With a linear solenoid actuator, the movement of the armature or plunger is linear. Rotary solenoid actuators, meanwhile, utilize ball bearings to turn linear motion into a form of rotary motion that is clockwise or counterclockwise.

When a manufacturer sets out to design and create an electromagnetic actuator, they will determine the requirements of a specific application, and whether the design process can be formulated as a direct or inverse problem. With a direct problem, properties such as structure, dimension, and composition are already known, and other characteristic values are determined through numerical methods to be more cost-effective. With an inverse problem, the structure, dimensions, and composition of the actuator are designed using specific characteristics that are determined based on the application in hand. This process can lead to the creation of a single solution that tackles multiple problems, but its downside is the higher price point for such a design. As such, the choice between approaching the direct problem or inverse problem design comes down to the particular needs of an application and the resources of the manufacturer in question.

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