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What Is a 12V Actuator?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 17, 2024
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A 12v actuator is any one of a family of remote activation devices designed to operate with a 12-volt power supply. Supply voltages for these devices are typically direct current (DC), although, in some cases, alternating current (AC) supplies are used. A wide range of actuator mechanism and output motion types are used in 12-volt actuators, including linear and rotary outputs from lead and ball screw, gearbox, and positive displacement piston mechanisms. These actuators are common standard parts and after-market accessories in the automotive industry and in applications where low-voltage devices offer operational and safety benefits. Notwithstanding their low voltages, 12-volt actuators are capable of significant power outputs.

An actuator is a remote or automatic source of working motion. They do the work of a human operator in environments where safety issues, distances, and space constraints preclude intervention. There are a large variety of different types of actuators in general use. These include a range of mechanism types, output motion configurations, and operating voltages. One of the more common types is the low voltage 12v actuator designed for use with 12-volt power supplies. Although more commonly utilized in situations where DC voltages are used, these devices may be used with both AC and DC power sources.

Mechanisms used in low-voltage activation devices such as the 12v actuator vary considerably. Linear types include rack and pinion, lead and ball screw, or air- and oil-powered piston mechanisms. Straight line actuators such as these are used in a wide range of applications, including door, machine adjustment, and jack operators. Rotary 12-volt actuators include gear and hydraulically-driven mechanisms and are usually used as valve and instrument actuators. The low-voltage power supply values of these devices do not necessarily mean that they are meant exclusively for light-duty applications, as they are capable of high-power output ratings, particularly hydraulically-driven, positive displacement types.

Due to their voltage ratings, 12v actuator models are frequently used in the automotive industry. Here, they are used as door openers, engine adjustment agents, or even for the control of large excavation machine functions. Applications that benefit from or legally require the use of low-voltage/low-current equipment also often feature various 12v actuator models. These applications include domestic gate, marine, and hazardous environment actuators. The aviation industry is another area where the 12v actuator sees regular use as system and powered control surface actuators.

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