Know Your Pneumatics: Rotary Actuator Basics

Know Your Pneumatics - Rotary Actuator Basics - VRS VRA Series Rack and Pinion Rotary Actuator-Pneumatic Division Europe-Parker Hannifin Corporation

Pneumatic rotary actuators are commonly used to convert compressed air pressure (in the form of a cylinder stroke)  into an oscillating rotary motion. Like other pneumatic components, they are durable, offer simplicity and high force for their size, and can operate in hazardous environments.

There are two main types of pneumatic rotary actuators: rack and pinion, and vane – both are available in either single or double actuation:

Rack and pinion rotary actuators use a cylinder piston attached to a rack gear. When actuated, the piston and rack move in a linear fashion rotating the pinion gear and output shaft. A double rack unit utilizes two racks on opposite sides of the pinion gear, in effect, doubling the output torque of the unit. Parker's VRS/VRA Series is an example of a rack and pinion rotary actuator that converts linear motion via a rack and pinion drive to a male or female output shaft.


Know Your Pneumatics - Rotary Actuator Basics - Pro-PRN Series Vane Actuator-Pneumatic Division Europe-Parker Hannifin CorporationVane actuators have a cylindrical chamber in which a vane is mounted on a central shaft. Air pressure applied on one side of the vane forces it to rotate until it reaches the end of the stroke. Alternatively, air pressure from the opposite side of the vane drives the shaft in the opposite direction until it reaches the end of stroke. In a single vane style, the rotary motion is typically limited to 280 degrees. In a double vane style, the motion is typically 90 or 100 degrees, offering less rotational range with double the force of the single vane construction. Our PRO-PRN Series is an example of a vane actuator available in 9 sizes in single or double vane versions.

Rotary actuators can often be overlooked in the specification process as common pneumatic cylinders are specified with a pivot arm to achieve the necessary rotary motion. However, rotary actuators have the potential to greatly simplify applications because they are self-contained components capable of supporting loads due to the internal bearing sets.

Additionally, there is no need to design and construct external pillow block bearings. Unlike piston rods exposed to airborne contaminants, rotary actuators can reduce maintenance headaches in dirty environments.

Learn more

How well do you know your pneumatics? Learn more by reading a related blog in our “Know Your Pneumatics” series.

Know Your Pneumatics: Selecting a Pneumatic Cylinder | Operating Environments

Know Your Pneumatics: 3 Ways to Adopt Advances in Pneumatic Valve Technology

Know Your Pneumatics: Rodless Linear Actuators with Integrated Valves - 5 Advantages

Know Your Pneumatics: Safety & Understanding Rod Locking Cylinders 


Know Your Pneumatics - Rotary Actuator Basics - Kevin Hill Product Manager-Pneumatic Division Europe-Parker Hannifin CorporationArticle contributed by Kevin Hill, European product manager, pneumatic actuators, Pneumatic Division Europe, Parker Hannifin Corporation.






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