Valves are used to regulate and control the flow of a liquid in a system. While some valves are manually controlled, such as the one that turns your kitchen tap on and off, other larger industrial valves are controlled by an actuator. An Actuator is a machine that is used to automate the control of industrial valves, and they are used in such industrial settings as wastewater treatment plants, power plants, and refineries.
Actuators can be used to automatically control valves, such as the different programmed cycles on your washing machine, or can be set to remote control the operations of a centralized control room. Often, the valve is so large that manual control becomes impossible, and an automatic valve actuator is needed.
There are three different types of valve actuators: pneumatic, hydraulic and electric valve actuators.
Pneumatic Valve Actuators
A pneumatic actuator works by converting energy in the form of compressed air into motion which controls the valve. One of the advantages of this type of actuator is that they are usually a simple design and therefore relatively cost effective. However, a supply of compressed air is required for their use.
Hydraulic Valve Actuators
This type is similar to Pneumatic actuators, yet water or another fluid such as oil is used instead of air. Hydraulics is a very old source of power, and it has been used since the 6th millennium BC. However, Hydraulic actuators need a supply of liquid lines to function.
Electric Valve Actuators
Electric valve actuators are powered by an electric motor, and are able to handle larger valves than the other two because their power has no limits. Many large scale gate valves with high torque requirements are exclusively operated by electric valve actuators.
Of course, electric valve actuators have the disadvantage that they cease to function in a power failure. However, most electric valve actuators will have a hand wheel built in so that they can be operated manually in such a situation.
Electric valve actuators also have the advantage of being able to be programmed with computer technology to perform automated functions and processes. Electric valve actuators are able to monitor outside factors and adjust their behaviour according to controller parameters.
Electric actuators are able to be used in any climate condition around the world, and they are particularly important in situations where potentially explosive materials are being handled such as oil and gas. Their flameproof enclosure prevents ignition sparks from leaving the device.
Industrial sized or incredibly tiny, electric valve actuators are the most versatile and practical type of valve actuator available today.
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