Thursday 3rd Dec, 2020

The rise of electric linear actuators

Electric linear actuators are becoming more and more common on industrial equipment, including for grain handling applications. ABHR speaks to Andrew Cooper from LINAK Australia to find out why.

Electric linear actuators are becoming more and more common on industrial equipment, including for grain handling applications. ABHR speaks to Andrew Cooper from LINAK Australia to find out why.

Grain handling has historically used manually operated, pneumatic or hydraulic gate valves and silo lids, but these can be inefficient or require high levels of maintenance and if manual, place the operator at risk due to heights or potentially explosive environments caused by dust in a confined space created by the movement of grain.

Actuators play a key role in this space, not only providing the force to operate heavy farm equipment efficiently but ensuring the safety of those around the facility. Andrew Cooper, Australia Industry Business Unit Manager for LINAK, says there are three main types of actuators used in the industry – hydraulic, pneumatic and electric.

“Hydraulic actuators and rams are good for applications requiring very high forces, while pneumatics are good for lower force, fast and repetitive motions,” he says.

“However, both hydraulic and pneumatic actuators require a complex system of many additional components which require regular maintenance and in hydraulic systems there is the added risk of hydraulic oil leaks which can contaminate materials. Even in the mining industry, applications are starting to move away from hydraulic actuators because the oil can risk contaminating the finished product.”

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“Electric actuator systems are simpler, easy to install, maintenance free and suitable for a wide range of industrial applications requiring forces up to 15kN.”

Electric actuators used on industrial applications typically need to be designed for the harsh environments they are installed in to ensure they are robust and reliable.

Specifically, in grain handling operations you will often see actuators outdoors under the hot Australian sun, covered in dust and occasionally drenched in rain. Any devices within these facilities needed to withstand these harsh, outdoor conditions.

Cooper says that is why LINAK developed and have successfully supplied their TECHLINE range of actuators to industrial equipment manufacturers for many years. Its robust design, including heavy duty aluminium housing and high IP66 rating even when operating, along with an extensive testing programme including salt spray, chemical resistance, climatic and vibration tests, ensure TECHNLINE actuators continue to operate reliably for many years even in harsh environments.

“Each actuator undergoes a test at the factory, not just a sample, to be sure that it is robust and ready for the conditions they will face.”

He adds that some areas of grain handling facilities are defined as dust explosive atmospheres and any equipment installed and used in those areas must be tested and certified in accordance with IECEx safety requirements.

“Electrical equipment can create electrical sparks, or the surface temperature can reach potentially dangerous levels, and in a dust filled environment, that can become a disaster,” he says.

“That is why we designed an IECEx version of many of our TECHLINE actuators to ensure the housing contains any potential ignition source and keeps the surface temperature low, and why they have been tested and certified for operation in dust explosive atmospheres by a notified body.”

“Customers can confidently install these products in their operations, knowing it has gone through a rigorous safety test and is IECEx certified.”

Another key benefit of electric actuators is the ability to be incorporated into Industry 4.0 operations. Digitalisation has allowed operators to access analytical data to find out exactly what is happening on a site and where something has gone wrong.

LINAK actuators can be easily integrated into a site’s automation system’s communication network enabling simple control and monitoring of the actuator and providing access to a wealth of valuable data points that can provide actionable insight for operators.

“Information like the current being drawn, the actual position, the number of starts, total running time, running status and if there is a fault can be easily extracted to a programmable logic controller and if the automation system is designed for it, accessed on a phone,” Cooper says.

“With these data points, our customers can find ways to improve the efficiency of their operations through methods like predictive maintenance.  Once an actuator is integrated into an automation system’s communication network real value can be gained from the data available.”