Actuators have found use in many applications, especially in vehicles. Vehicle actuators convert electrical, hydraulic, or pneumatic energy into mechanical motion. They work silently to enable smooth engine performance, transmission control, steering, etc., in vehicles.
But as technology advances, the constant pursuit of safety, comfort, efficiency, and performance increases, and so does vehicle actuator technology.
This article will delve into vehicle actuator trends and discuss innovations and future trends. We’ll also examine case studies illustrating how leading automakers leverage actuator technology to enhance their products and services.
There are two types of actuators used in vehicles based on the type of movement they provide: the linear and rotational way an actuator works depends on its type and purpose. In general, there are three kinds of actuation mechanisms: Electric, hydraulic, and pneumatic.
Electric actuation uses electricity to create electrostatic forces that move a coil, magnet, or plate. This force then converts into linear or axial motion, depending on the type of actuator. They are very precise in operation, although they might not always pack the same power punch as their hydraulic or pneumatic types.
Hydraulic actuation, on the other hand, produces mechanical movement by using pressurized fluid. The fluid, under pressure, then transmits the force and motion through a cylinder, piston, or valve. They are capable of delivering impressive torque. They are also reliable and smooth in operation. However, they can sometimes be a bit noisy and prone to leaks.
Pneumatic actuation operates on a similar principle to hydraulic actuators, only that it uses compressed air instead of fluid. They are easy to operate, cost-effective, and safe. They may not be as precise as electric actuators, but they can develop more powerful torque.
Some actuators use two or all three mechanisms to achieve the highest performance. For instance, an electro-hydraulic actuator combines a motor with a pump to power a hydraulic cylinder.
Recent Innovations in Vehicle Actuator Technology
Advancements in vehicle actuator technology have been progressing rapidly over the years, thanks to the development of new materials and designs; at the forefront of this innovation are electric actuators.
Electric actuators are increasingly replacing counterparts for vehicle applications due to their numerous advantages. For one, an electric actuator has a lighter weight, higher efficiency, improved controllability, and reduced maintenance requirements.
For these reasons, electromechanical actuators are getting more widespread acceptance. For instance, electric brake actuators enhance braking performance by reducing braking distance while also contributing to fuel economy for vehicles.
Smart Actuators and Their Role in Automation
Smart actuators are simply actuators fitted with sensors, controllers, and communication modules. These add-ons allow the actuators to constantly monitor their functions, make necessary adjustments, and communicate with other devices.
In the domain of vehicle automation, smart actuators contribute to improving the safety, comfort, and performance of vehicles. An example is their application as steering actuators. Smart steering actuators can detect the driver’s intentions and provide feedback to the actuator motor to assume control of the steering in emergency scenarios.
Integration of Actuators with Vehicle Control Systems
Actuators are increasingly being integrated into vehicle control systems, like the engine management system (EMS) transmission control unit (TCU), electronic stability control (ESC), and adaptive cruise control (ACC).
Again, this integration smartens actuators so they can better coordinate and optimize a vehicle’s functions and performance. Another example is the integration of engine and transmission actuators for enhancing fuel efficiency and drivability. These actuators help to synchronize engine speed and gear shifting.
Energy efficiency and Eco-friendly Actuators
Actuators are also becoming more friendly and energy-efficient as they help decrease vehicle fuel usage and emissions. There are methods to achieve this:
- Regenerative braking: This process enables the vehicle to recover its energy during braking and convert it into electrical energy that can be stored or reused.
- Start-stop system: This mechanism automatically turns off the engine when the vehicle is idle and restarts it when the driver resumes driving. By employing a start-stop system, we can effectively lessen fuel consumption and vehicle emissions.
The Future of Vehicle Actuators
Vehicle actuator technology is expected to continue evolving as new challenges and opportunities arise in the automotive industry. Some of the future trends are:
1. Predictive Maintenance
Predictive maintenance is a method that uses machine learning to anticipate the condition and performance of parts and systems in vehicles before they fail or deteriorate.
According to a report by McKinsey, predictive maintenance can reduce maintenance costs by 10 to 40 per cent, reduce downtime by 50 per cent, and increase equipment lifetime by 20 to 40 per cent. A good example is Bosch’s predictive maintenance solution for electric vehicles.
Predictive maintenance prolongs actuators’ durability and dependability by offering alerts and recommendations for repairs or replacements.
2. AI-powered Actuators
AI-driven actuators refer to actuators that use intelligent (AI) algorithms to enhance their performance and behavior by learning from their experiences and external data sources.
Continental’s intelligent actuator for adaptive cruise control (ACC), for instance, uses AI to adjust the braking force according to the traffic situation, road surface, and driver’s style. Tesla trails close behind using electric motor actuators and AI to optimize the power output and efficiency of their electric cars.
These advanced actuators can adapt to changing conditions and personal preferences, thereby improving the safety, comfort, and efficiency of vehicles.
Consumer Adoption and Market Trends
People are increasingly realising the advantages of actuator technology in their cars: safety, comfort, efficiency, and performance.
Moreover, they are also showing a growing curiosity about the features and capabilities of intelligent actuator technology, like automation, customization, and connectivity of their cars.
As per a survey conducted by Deloitte, 46 per cent of individuals in the United States expressed interest in vehicle technologies, like suspension systems, adaptive cruise control, and steer-by-wire functionalities. With this amount of curiosity, actuator technology is bound to see more advancements in the coming years.
Market Growth Projections
The global vehicle actuator market is projected to experience a growth trajectory with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.1 per cent from 2020 to 2027.
By the end of 2027, the market is predicted to reach $39.7 billion.
This growth can be attributed to the increasing demand for electric and hybrid vehicles and the widespread adoption of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicles. Plus, the growing emphasis on fuel efficiency and reducing emissions will also increase the demand.
However, there are challenges that need to be addressed for this growth to be sustained effectively. These challenges are none other than cost feasibility and the technological complexities associated with actuator technology.
Vehicle Actuator Technology in Mainstream and Luxury Cars
Luxury cars typically use premium parts for their cars, while mainstream automakers opt for more affordable options. But recently, car manufacturers are investing more in developing new and improved car actuator systems, although there’s still a great difference in the quality of actuators each category uses.
Mainstream cars typically use cost-effective actuators like pneumatic actuators, whereas luxury cars use more advanced electric or intelligent actuators. The reason is simple: mainstream cars prioritize safety and efficiency, while comfort and performance take precedence in luxury cars.
Yet, taking recent trends into consideration, we believe that it wouldn’t be long before actuator technology in both car categories converge.
As the demand for more intelligent and efficient vehicles increases, the need for dependable actuators also rises. Here are some crucial points from this article:
- The global market for vehicle actuators is projected to grow at a compound growth rate (CAGR) of 7.1% from 2020 to 2027 and reach a value of USD 59.5 billion.
- Electric actuators progressively replace matic actuators in various vehicle applications due to their lower noise emission, compact design, lightweight structure, and flexible installation options.
- Actuators are increasingly integrated with vehicle control systems like EMS (Engine Management System), TCU (Transmission Control Unit), ESC (Electronic Stability Control), and ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control) to optimize and coordinate vehicle functions and performance.
- Future vehicle actuator technology trends will see more AI-powered actuators incorporated into vehicles.
We firmly believe that unlocking the potential of vehicle technology relies on advancements in actuator technology.