Three primary kinds of valve actuators are commonly used: pneumatic, hydraulic, and electric.
Pneumatic actuators can be further categorized as scotch yoke design, vane design, and the subject of this post – rack and pinion actuators.
Rack and pinion actuators convert the linear movement of a driving mechanism to provide a rotational movement designed to open and close quarter-turn valves such as ball, butterfly, or plug valves and also for operating industrial or commercial dampers.
|Rack and Pinion Animation
The rotational movement of a rack and pinion actuator is accomplished via linear motion and two gears. A circular gear, known as a “pinion” engages the teeth of one or two linear gears, referred to as the “rack”.
Pneumatic actuators use pistons that are attached to the rack. As air or spring power is applied the to pistons, the rack changes position. This linear movement is transferred to the rotary pinion gear (in both directions) providing bi-directional rotation to open and close the connected valve.
Rack and pinion actuators pistons can be pressurized with air, gas, or oil to provide the linear movement that drives the pinion gear. To rotate the pinion gear in the opposite direction, the air, gas, or oil must be redirected to the other side of the pistons, or use coil springs as the energy source for rotation. Rack and pinion actuators using springs are referred to as “spring-return actuators”. Actuators that rely on opposite-side pressurization of the rack are referred to as “direct acting”.
Most actuators are designed for 100-degree travel with clockwise and counterclockwise travel adjustments for open and closed positions. World-standard ISO mounting pads are commonly available to provide ease and flexibility in direct valve installation.
NAMUR mounting dimensions on actuator pneumatic port connections and on actuator accessory holes and drive shafts are also common design features to make adding pilot valves and accessories more convenient.
Pneumatic rack and pinion actuators are compact and effective. They are reliable, durable, and provide good service life. There are many brands of rack and pinion actuators on the market, all with subtle differences in piston seals, shaft seals, spring designs, and body designs. Some variants are specially designed for very specific operational environments or circumstances.
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