Using a Piezoelectric Actuator for Precision Motion Control

When it comes to precision motion control, very few actuator types can match the exactness of piezoelectric actuators. This has naturally made these actuators the preferred actuation solution in a myriad of applications. This article elucidates on the several desirable attributes demonstrated by piezoelectric positioning systems.

These actuators have been commercially available for 35 years, and have continuously adapted and evolved during this period. Quartz, barium titanate, lead niobate, and lead zirconate titanate are some examples of piezoelectric materials. The two major properties of piezoelectric materials are:

  • They produce an electric voltage when pressure is applied to them.
  • They mechanically deform in response to an applied electric charge/voltage.

The entire range of piezoelectric actuators is built on these basic principles. The use of these actuators spans across various industrial, commercial, and consumer applications. Here are some key properties of piezoelectric actuators that make them the preferred choice in precision motion control:

  • Infinite resolution: Piezoelectric actuators don’t comprise moving parts, as they directly convert electrical energy into mechanical energy, and vice versa. The absence of moving parts enables unlimited resolution.
  • Responsive actuation: Such actuators are highly responsive, and react to electric exposure in a few microseconds or less. These actuators can even provide acceleration rates up to 10,000 g and even more.
  • Ability to generate high force: With the evolution of piezoelectric actuators, it is now possible to move loads of several tons. Even with these loads, the linear motor/actuator can control travel ranges of up to 100 micrometers with sub-nanometer resolutions.
  • No magnetic interference: Certain applications have zero tolerance to magnetic fields. Piezoelectric actuators are best suited for such applications because the piezoelectric effect is primarily related to electric fields. Such a linear motor/actuator is not affected by magnetic fields. They also do not produce magnetic fields of their own.
  • Energy efficiency: Even when these actuators are required to hold heavy loads for a very long time, they do not demonstrate a significant energy loss. Static operation thus becomes surprisingly energy and cost-efficient. Simply stated, these actuators are capable of storing energy just like an electrical capacitor.

In addition to the features mentioned above, piezoelectric actuators are also capable of functioning normally in vacuum environments where quality precision motion control is required. And, they are compatible for use in clean room applications as they do not require the use of lubricants. Additionally, if your application requires an actuator that can function at cryogenic temperatures, you can request your manufacturer to create a special actuator suited to such environments.

Given these characteristics, piezoelectric actuators are increasingly preferred for precision motion control in data storage, semiconductors, life science and medical technology, precision mechanics, optics, photonics, and so on.