AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 0056B ACCREDITED

What Are Pneumatic Actuators?

Pneumatic actuators are a safe source of motion control that is powered by stored energy in the form of pressurized gas. These devices are essential components employed in various industries, especially for opening or closing valves. They are particularly valued because they do not require heat or electricity and therefore present a very useful option in areas where these can present a safety risk. For more information about what pneumatic actuators are and how they function, read on as we discuss the characteristics that make pneumatic actuators a vital component in so many operations.

How Do Pneumatic Actuators Work?

In basic terms, a pneumatic actuator is a device that converts energy from compressed gas into a mechanical motion. This motion can either be linear or rotary depending on the type of actuator and its associated design. Generally consisting of a cylinder, piston, and several valves or ports, pneumatic actuators create motion by pumping gas into a chamber where pressure is built up. Once the amount of pressure inside the air cylinder exceeds that of the pressure outside, the compressed gas will expand outwards, moving a piston or gear which can be directed in either a straight or circular motion.

Types of Pneumatic Actuators

Generally, pneumatic actuators are classified by whether the motion they generate is rotary or linear. In the pneumatic rotary actuator category, there are a couple styles to choose from, those of which are vane style and rack & pinion style. Vane actuators have a cylindrical chamber in which a movable vane is mounted on a shaft. Depending on where the air is pumped, it will thrust against one side of the vane, causing it to rotate. In a rack and pinion actuator, a piston is instead attached to a rack gear so that when pressure is applied, the piston and rack move linearly, rotating the pinion gear and drive shaft.

Linear pneumatic actuators can also come in two types, either piston style and spring/diaphragm style. In a piston style actuator, a gas will force a piston in a straight line, either extending or compressing a spring attached to its opposite end. A spring/diaphragm style actuator works similarly but uses a diaphragm in place of a piston. Both of these types of actuators create a simple linear motion which can be translated to other parts.

Applications for Pneumatic Actuators

Pneumatic actuators are suited for a wide array of application types, serving across many industries. Some of the most common machines which pneumatic actuators are a part of include automobile combustion engines, air compressors, packaging & production machinery, railway instruments, and aircraft pneumatic systems. The main reasons pneumatic actuators are chosen over other types of actuators lies in their reliability and the safety aspects associated with these devices. Furthermore, as they do not require heat or electricity, pneumatic actuators have found a place in many vehicles and production machinery for their reduced fire risk. Lastly, pneumatic actuators are also extremely durable and can, therefore, reduce the overall cost of and time devoted to maintenance.


As a safe and dependable option for generating simple motion, pneumatic actuators serve as one of the essential components in industrial machinery. Are you on the search for dependable components such as pneumatic actuators for your next project? As a member of the ASAP Semiconductor family of websites, NSN World can provide you with access to an inventory of over 2 billion new, used, obsolete, and hard-to-find NSN parts provided with time and cost savings. Browse our easy-to-navigate online catalog at your leisure or start the purchasing process today by sending us a completed Request For Quote form provided on our website. Devoted to making the procurement process as simple as possible, you can expect to receive a custom quote for your comparisons within just 15 minutes of our team receiving your request.


December 14, 2022

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