Cleaning up the Industrial Industry

How Electric Actuators Can Help Your Process Plant's Efficiency

by Alfredo Harper

If you want to run an industrial manufacturing plant, you will likely need to deal with fluid process systems. Fluid piping systems are used in refineries, food factories, water treatment plants, and the like. In the past, these fluids were regulated by manual control valves. These valves would regulate the level, temperature, flow, and pressure of a fluid.

However, if you don't have a lot of employees or if you must operate complex systems, then manual control valves aren't practical. That's where actuators come in. Read on to learn more about what actuators are and how electric ones can improve your business.

What Is an Actuator?

Actuators regulate fluid pressure with a rod that has a plug on the end. Actuators are actually just one part of a control valve (the other part is the valve body). Actuators automatically control necessary fluid changes so that employees don't have to continually use hand wheels or levers.

Instead of needing many people at each control valve, you can operate actuators from one control room. The actuators will control the valves when they receive signals from other devices, such as temperature gauges and flow meters.

Are There Different Kinds of Actuators?

There are three main kinds of actuators: hydraulic, pneumatic, and electric. Within these groups there are sub-divisions depending on how these components are constructed.

For instance, some pneumatic actuators are known as "spring and diaphragm" mechanisms. These pneumatic actuators use air to fill a flexible, plastic diaphragm, which then in turn pushes a rod and plug down into the valve body. Some electric actuators follow a "solenoid" construction, where currents create a magnetic field to pull the valve rod and plug.

Hydraulic, pneumatic, and electric actuators are also sub-divided by the kinds of movements they generate. Some actuators use pushing forces while other use pulling movements. Some actuators are more advanced and can have movements along an X, Y, or Z axis.

Why Should You Use an Electric Actuator?

While each kind of actuator has its advantages and disadvantages, electric ones are arguably the best. Pneumatic actuators create a lot of noise, need a lot of maintenance, and can only operate simple fluid systems. Hydraulic systems are incredibly powerful, but they cost a lot to install, operate, and maintain.

Some of the benefits of electric actuators include the following:

  • Low maintenance costs
  • Low operation costs
  • Flexible and easy-to-learn controls
  • Minimal environmental concerns (less noise and no hydraulic disposal)
  • The ability to control complex fluid systems
  • The ability to use generators or manual valves should the power go out

While electric actuators do have numerous benefits, it's always good to consider the downsides. For example, electric systems do have higher costs initially. But since operation and maintenance fees are lower than pneumatic and hydraulic systems, this cost should balance out over time—especially since electric actuators can last a very long time with good care.

If you want to make sure that you make good on the initial costs, it's important to learn about the load that your actuator's motor can take. If these components are taxed to their limit, they will overheat and wear down. Also, while pneumatic and hydraulic actuators are more adept at adjusting to shock loads, electric actuators' bearings, screws, and other components can become damaged. However, as long as you have shock-absorbing devices in place—and employees who are properly trained—this shouldn't be a problem.

There are many actuators on the market that resolve common issues (like leakage), are easy to use, and are efficient. To learn more about which actuators would work best for your business, be sure to contact an industrial and manufacturing expert at a company like ETI Systems in your area.