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An actuator is a component of a machine that produces force, torque, or displacement, usually in a controlled way, when an electrical, pneumatic or hydraulic input is supplied to it in a system (called an actuating system). An actuator converts such an input signal into the required form of mechanical energy. It is a type of transducer. In simple terms, it is a "mover".
An actuator requires a control device (controlled by control signal) and a source of energy. The control signal is relatively low energy and may be electric voltage or current, pneumatic, or hydraulic fluid pressure, or even human power. In the electric, hydraulic, and pneumatic sense, it is a form of automation or automatic control.
The displacement achieved is commonly linear or rotational, as exemplified by linear motors and rotary motors, respectively. Rotary motion is more natural for small machines making large displacements. By means of a leadscrew, rotary motion can be adapted to function as a linear actuator (a linear motion, but not a linear motor).
Another broad classification of actuators separates them into two types: incremental-drive actuators and continuous-drive actuators. Stepper motors are one type of incremental-drive actuators. Examples of continuous-drive actuators include DC torque motors, induction motors, hydraulic and pneumatic motors, and piston-cylinder drives (rams).
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