An Introduction to Air Cylinder Actuator

Posted on Dec 27, 2020

Air Cylinder Actuator

Air cylinder actuator is also known as pneumatic actuator or pneumatic control valve actuator. Air cylinder actuators are designed to convert energy which is in the form of compressed air into motion in order to perform tasks or operation in various machines.

What Is an Air Cylinder Actuator?

For starters, we have to know what an actuator is and how it works. Actuators are core components of a variety of machines which can drive and regulate the mechanism or system, for example, opening a valve. All types of actuators require signals or instructions and also the source of energy. The typical energy sources of actuators include pneumatic pressure, hydraulic pressure, and electric currents while the signal might be of human power, hydraulic fluid pressure, pneumatic or from a software-based system. As an actuator receives the signal, the device will respond by converting the energy into the driving force of a fixed mechanical or electronic system of the machines. The electric, hydraulic, and pneumatic systems with actuators are known as automation or automatically controlled systems. The devices can be used in drivers in industrial manufacturing machines, printer drivers, robot control systems and so on.

Air cylinder actuator is also known as pneumatic actuator or pneumatic control valve actuator. Air cylinder actuators are designed to convert energy which is in the form of compressed air into motion in order to perform tasks or operation in various machines. Depending on the types of the air cylinder actuator, the mechanical motions can be linear or rotary motions. Air cylinder actuators feature clean operations since the working fluid is gas, and this also eliminates the risks of leakage of fluids that might contaminate the equipment and the surroundings. There are a variety of air cylinder actuators including diaphragm cylinders, rod-less cylinders, through-rod cylinders and telescoping cylinders.

Single Acting Style and Double Acting Style

Air cylinders in these pneumatic actuators can be divided into two classes: single acting style and double acting style.

Single acting air cylinders have only one port directing compressed air into the cylinder, moving the piston to the proper position. This type of air cylinder uses an internal spring or only utilizes gravity to return the piston back to original position as the pressure is removed. Single acting styles are suitable for applications that only work in a single direction, for example, lifting, pressing.

On the other hand, double acting air cylinders have two ports respectively mounted at each end. The extended port and retract port that receive high pressure can alter the position of the piston. Although the arrangement uses more energy than single acting style, double acting style is more commonly used and versatile since it is available for moving loads in both directions like opening and closing a unit. More detailed structure of the ports and piston will be discussed later.

Construction of Air Cylinder Actuator

Air cylinder actuator, or pneumatic actuator, generally consists of the actuator body and pistons or diaphragms inside the body to build the motive power. Most common style of air cylinder actuator has a piston and rod working inside a closed system. Air cylinder actuators are commonly mounted at the end of various fluid power systems. 

The upstream elements of the actuator perform the visible, moving jobs, including compressors, lubricators, filtering units, pressure controllers,  control valves and flow controlling units. The entire system is typically connected by a series of tubes or piping, either flexible or rigid, depending on the use. There is a wide variety of structure and also materials choice to fit increasing applications and operator preferences today.

● Actuator Body:

The typical materials which the actuator body are made of include steel, stainless steel, aluminum and also polymers. The construction in some cases is non-repairable. In most applications, the body of the air cylinder actuator will be mounted with a support frame, the end of the rod will be attached with the moving units of the machines.

● Piston/Diaphragm:

The pistons are responsible for keeping the air at the top portion in the air cylinder, subsequently, the air pressure will force the diaphragm or piston regulate the valve controlling units to perform the tasks. The control valves are also required to guide the compressed air to enter the extended port or open the retract port in the air cylinder. Difference of air pressure between two sides of the diaphragm or the piston creates the force which multiplies the pressure differentials due to the piston area. If the force is larger than the load, the piston and rod can then extend in order to actuate the movement and operations of machines. In contrast, guiding the compressed air to the retract port and releasing the extended port, the pneumatic cylinders system will retract back to the home position. 

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