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Linear actuators the preferred solution for agricultural OEMs

08 October 2020

In the past, agricultural OEMs had two choices when it came to selection of actuators for applications such as folding sprayer booms: hydraulic or pneumatic.

However, the latest generation of linear actuators, such as the H-Track from Thomson Industries, a brand of the Altra Industrial Motion Corp., is offering the required performance without any of the traditional drawbacks of hydraulic or pneumatic actuators.

Pneumatic and hydraulic actuators require supporting systems to operate. Naturally this takes up space on a vehicle platform, space that is often at a premium as manufacturers move to improve vehicle packaging. Pipes make installation more difficult, which takes up time on the production line and during maintenance work.

Traditional hydraulic actuators pose even more problems, as any compromise in the integrity of pipework can cause leakage of hydraulic fluid onto crops, rendering them unusable. Hydraulic systems are also inherently expensive – a cost that is passed directly onto the vehicle manufacturer. The considerable power consumption of hydraulic actuators must also be considered.

The H-Track electro-hydraulic actuator from Thomson offers the performance of a traditional hydraulic actuator while overcoming the shortcomings. Its motor, pump and valves are integrated into a mini ‘Power Pack’ mounted onto the cylinder. This allows completely self-contained hydraulic actuation without the need for external pipework. Able to exert forces up to 22kN and designed to withstand punishment that would destroy many other electric actuators, the power-dense H-Track offers the required performance too.

In terms of installation, the H-Track is connected via two wires. All external pipework is eliminated, expediting installation and maintenance. All H-Tracks are lubricated for life, which further minimises maintenance requirements. This simple arrangement ensures that the H-Track offers considerable time savings on the production line and in the field.

Eliminating pipework also negates the risk of crop contamination due to fluid leakage. This ensures that harvested material is not wasted, protecting the quality of produce. 

Space efficiency is also enhanced, as the self-contained H-Track combines all of its required features within the power pack and cylinder. Packaging is consequently improved as well as overall weight – all important in improving vehicle efficiency.

Another advantage is the reduced power requirements of the H-Track. Without the requirement to power external systems, the H-Track is less power intensive. Energy efficiency is consequently improved.

The H-Track offers inherent value too. Rather than specifying an expensive pneumatic or hydraulic actuator with supporting systems, agricultural OEMs can instead specify the self-contained H-Track at a reduced comparative cost, helping to improve the value of a vehicle.

Additional capabilities include an immunity to vibrational drifting and hydraulic self-locking when load is reversed. The compact pump and valves can also be configured to the requirements of each application. To withstand the outdoors, the H-Track can be specified in either IP67 or IP69K ingress protection ratings, with a standard operating temperature range of between -40 to 82°C.

Agricultural OEMs are moving to heavy duty electric actuators as they provide a host of advantages. The H-Track, for example, offers the strong performance of a hydraulic actuator while removing external pipework, easing installation, maximising value and reducing power consumption. For these reasons, electric actuators are replacing their pneumatic and hydraulic forebears.

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