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Linear Actuators Tout Electronic Control

June 11, 2003
Schneider's new family of linear actuators

Until now, many machine builders have relied on pneumatic or hydraulic systems to handle simple one or two-axis motion applications, such as picking up a part and moving it to another location, labeling, or light assembly.

The conversion to electronic positioning control presents a significant opportunity to reduce development costs and cycle time. The redesign of even the most basic of these motion control solutions, however, typically involves hundreds of man-hours by an in-house engineering team or system integrator to secure parts and prototype a design through to the mechanical stage.

For many resource-constrained industrial machine builders who have had to downsize their design engineering staffs because of the poor economic climate, this man-hour investment often was impractical.

Now a turnkey replacement solution that's ready to install is available with Schneider Electric's introduction of a family of linear actuators. The new line of Telemecanique electronically controlled linear actuators is designed to simplify and reduce the cost of incorporating motion control into processes. These new actuators provide a simple, low-cost alternative to human labor.

Electronic position control offers several advantages over hydraulic or pneumatic cylinders, including:

* No fluid tanks or air compressors to buy, install, or maintain.

* Fewer breakdowns with the elimination of valves and hoses.

* Environmentally friendly, eliminating the regulatory expenses associated with the use of hydraulic oil.

"Electronic position control is cleaner, more flexible and easier to troubleshoot than mechanical solutions, simplifying the design and manufacture of equipment," says Robb Dussault, product marketing specialist for motion control at Schneider Electric. "It's also easier to buy a single component from a manufacturer than to go through the painstaking process of assembling and testing individual components to develop a new design. Electronic position control with linear actuators represents a solution that can simply be bolted onto a machine."

In today's made-to-customer-order world, short manufacturing runs mean many different products are coming off an assembly line, requiring faster retooling, frequent material changes, and different packaging or label changes. Electronic position control provides the flexibility to instantly change motion routines and equipment speeds to accommodate these changes.

While the transition from traditional hydraulic/pneumatic systems to electronic positioning control may seem intimidating, Dussault says the seamless integration of drives, controllers, motors, and linear actuators from a single source makes it easier. "Just as important, the benefits can be realized immediately since there's no steep learning curve for design engineers," he adds.

The new linear actuators are built to a customer's specifications and are ready to use, with limit switches and motors pre-installed, reducing the time it takes to get a process up and running. The motors and associated drives are from Schneider Electric's Twin Line family of stepper and servo motion products.

The drives enable the use of either pushbutton or fieldbus control for movement positions and speeds. The drives offer a built-in logic controller option, which can be programmed to control an entire machine or process without the cost and complexity of additional hardware.

The linear actuators provide portal and cantilever of movement. A portal axis consists of a stationary axis body and mobile carriage. It offers distinct advantages, including small dimensions, high rigidity and load-bearing capacity, low carriage weight, and selectable roller guides for either high speed or large loads.

A cantilever axis consists of a stationary motor and a moving axis body, designed to move into and out of the work area. The axis body can either be a length of extrusion or round bars, and can work with either a belt or toothed rod for transmission.

"Each approach has its own distinct advantages," says Dussault. "The round bar is a lighter-weight moving element that requires a smaller space, since the motor is center-mounted. Tool-mounting capabilities are more diverse and the bar provides high rigidity. The extruded version has a larger load capacity and longer stroke and is capable of higher speeds."

Schneider Electric also offers a telescopic version, which combines a portal with a cantilever configuration. The result creates a carriage path that moves completely in and out of the working area, extending the stroke beyond the limits of a stationary slide. Both portal and cantilever-type axes can be combined into multi-axis fixtures.

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