What’s an Actuator Rod?

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Actuator stems transfer mechanical output to the device being operated. They are made of metal, plastic, or aluminum, and their design depends on the actuator type and output torque. Actuators are powered devices used in dangerous environments and where space is limited. The drive rod is a physical link between the power output mechanism and the device being activated. Actuator rods are typically straight, but rotary actuators have oval or half-round cams. Heavy-duty actuators have hardened steel rods, while light-duty ones have composite or reinforced plastic rods.

An actuator stem is the part of any actuator that physically transfers the mechanical output of the actuator to the device it is designed to operate. In most cases, this part is little more than a straight metal rod or bar. Some actuator systems, however, have rather complex actuator rod assemblies made up of several linkages. Rod design is largely dictated by the type of actuator, the output torque involved, and the type of device being driven. Most medium to heavy duty actuator shafts are made from metal, with lighter examples being made from aluminum or various grades of plastic.

Actuators are used to provide working movements where human operators cannot, such as in locations away from manned installations, in dangerous environments and where space is limited. They are powered devices that can use electric motors, electromagnetic coils, and compressed gas or oil as their power sources. However different they may be in design and function, most of these devices transfer their working motion to the activated device via a drive rod. This part of the actuator forms the physical link between the power output mechanism of the actuator and the device being activated.

These parts are, in most cases, fairly simple straight components fabricated from round or profiled stock. The large piston on a hydraulic cylinder used to tip the bucket on an earth moving machine is a good example of a simple push rod. Conversely, the tiny plates that move the player heads on a computer hard drive are also a drive rod. Straight actuator rods are typically found on actuators, which produce straight or linear outputs. These rods are, in many cases, simply an extension of the internal, energy-generating mechanism of the actuator, having a locking yoke or hole at their ends for connection to the actuated device.

Rotary actuators often have oval or half-round cams that transfer their working motion, with some examples having a modular design, consisting of two or more separate pieces. In both rotary and linear output types, the actuator rod is often constructed of steel or softer alloys such as brass or aluminum. Heavy-duty actuators that produce large amounts of torque typically feature hardened, heavy-duty steel rods that can handle extreme loads. Light-duty actuators may have rods made of composite material or reinforced plastic. Many are hollow in cross section to save weight while benefiting from the inherent strength of cylindrical structures.

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