Episode # 57: Customizing Electric Actuators

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The Motion Control Show

Have you found an actuator that you like that you want but it just does not quite have everything that you need?  Maybe you wish you could tweak it just a little bit?  And maybe you are wondering why that is not an option of what you need.  There are reasons for that, and there are often times ways to get exactly what you want.  I am Corey Foster at Valin Corporation.  Reach out to us at TheMotionControlShow.com or this email address here.  We are always happy to help.  Let us see what we can learn.

Standard…or not?  You might think that something should be a standard product, but it does not quite exist.  Well, there is often times a business case for that because you know it takes engineering resources.  It takes manufacturing resources to make something.  There just may not be enough demand for that.  But maybe it can be made for you if you are willing to pay just a little bit extra.  And this really comes down to the different business models that different manufacturers have for their products and their distribution.  For example, actuators from Asia are shipped by boat on a consistently predictable basis, so there are often times very limited variations to them, and they are difficult to customize. 

These are different ways that you may want to customize an actuator.  Some actuators can be customized, others cannot.
  • form factor
  • space constraints
  • precision
  • motor /gearbox mounting
  • travel length
  • electrical wiring (i.e. limits, brake or motor)
  • custom testing

Bruce Ng is one of our Application Engineers who has had a lot of experience with customizing actuators.  I am asking him to share some stories about ones that he has worked on.  Bruce, tell me one of your favorite customs that you have worked on.

Bruce Ng: “I guess one of the more memorable ones, I would say that I've been a part of, the customer actually needed a few things done to it.  One of the things was they needed to hide it so that it wasn't as visible.  Typically, a lot of the actuators have a clear anodization on them for the extrude aluminum portion of it.  For this specific application they did a custom anodization to where it was anodized black instead of clear.  Then we also sourced a few third-party parts that replaced things that couldn't be anodized so everything was more of a matte or a subdued black color.  And then, on top of that, they needed these actuators to be sold in pairs to where there was a left and a right, so they were mirrored. 

“But then also, to reduce the burden on spares, there were a few customizations that were done to it so that if one got pulled off, while it was getting repaired, this single spare would go on.  Then, as soon as the one that went out to get repaired got repaired, it could be put back on the shelf.  Then, if it needed to be used, it could be used on the left or the right.  So, it was kind of a universal spare in that sense. 

“Then on top of that there were modifications to use gearboxes that wouldn't normally fit, have rotations in ways that better fit a specific footprint, and then also we added a custom position for the lubrication port so that when indexed to its positions that it would normally index to, they didn't have to manually position it to some other place so they could do the maintenance on it.  So that one specifically has a number of customizations all in one configuration.”

There are also environmental reasons to customize actuators.  You can have…
  • really clean (i.e. a Clean Room)
  • really dirty
  • vacuum
  • radiation
  • extreme temperatures
  • moisture
  • corrosive
  • explosion proof

Again, I'm going to turn to Bruce Ng because he has worked on some of these environments, and I want him to share some of the stories that he has.  Bruce, how many of these environments have you worked on actuators for?

Bruce Ng: “For that list there, that pretty much covers everything that we have seen.  I would say every environment has its own considerations and factors that need to be considered.  When you think about how an actuator is designed, there are certain ones that definitely fit better into the different environments to where they can be modified in a way that does not compromise a lot of the specifications that they are made to meet. 

“One example would be outer space.  When you get into an environment like outer space, you see potentially a few different tricky environments that need to be designed for.  In one product you might have to consider the vacuum environment at the same time considering how radiation is going to affect it.  Temperature and then moisture as well.  We have definitely seen all of those environments.  Sometimes multiple ones in the same application.”

There are still just a couple more reasons I can think of that you might want to customize actuators for…

One is cost.  You may have an actuator that you want, but perhaps there is just a little bit too much cost built into it, a few extra features, and you really want to strip those out.  You know, maybe it is stripping off a brake.  Maybe it's limit switches.  Maybe it is a strip seal or something and the cost up front of a little bit of extra cost to strip those out is worth it because you need to use a lot of them so you were trying to reduce the cost of one actuator even if it takes a little extra work up front.  It could happen.

There is also protecting your intellectual property.  Maybe you are making a machine and you are shipping it to customers, but you want to customize it in some way, such as hide the part number, so that your customers have to come back to you for one reason or another in order to get that actuator.  There are other reasons you might be wanting to hide that intellectual property, and it might just take a little bit of tweaking of a standard design.

I am Corey Foster and that was Bruce Ng helping me out.  We are at Valin Corporation.  You can reach out to us at TheMotionControlShow.com or this email address here.  We are always happy to help.

If you have any questions or are just looking for some help, we're happy to discuss your application with you.  Reach out to us at (855) 737-4716 or fill out our online form.