Oil & Gas Product News Logo

Why actuators for connected industry run on brushless DC motors

“Smart” electric actuators offer efficiency, flexibility, and connectivity for process applications

The RTK REact DC electric actuator uses a smart controller, seen atop the BLDC motor, to intelligently adjust speed in response to changing conditions.
The RTK REact DC electric actuator uses a smart controller, seen atop the BLDC motor, to intelligently adjust speed in response to changing conditions.

Company info

30 Corporate Drive, Suite 200
Burlington, ME
US, 01803-4232


Read more

With no need for compressed air, early electric actuators could operate with less sound and less maintenance than the predominant pneumatic actuator. Of course, the standard pneumatic option offered its own apparent benefits - performance in extreme temperatures, for example, and an elegant simplicity. As a result, the flow control industry has stubbornly clung to pneumatic actuators, specifically in the American market, for decades.

Now, the American market is changing. In the next four years, the market for electric actuators in the U.S. is expected to balloon by 17% annually. This shift comes amid growing interest in interconnectivity, in harnessing the IoT and enabling Industry 4.0. While the electric actuator was once a replacement technology for a pneumatic option, next generation electric actuators offer new functionalities that make them distinct products altogether. These new actuators can connect to networks.

The difference starts at the core of these devices: the motor. Brushless DC technology is making electric actuators more efficient, more adaptable, and more connected—and changing expectations for what an actuator can do.

How Brushless DC Motors Think

Outdated versions of DC electric actuator motors use brushes to mechanically connect the rotating and stationary parts of the motor. The resultant friction is necessary for operation, but causes some undesirable outcomes. Brushes wear down over time and must be replaced. Sparking can occur, a danger in explosive environments. If pushed, the motors will overheat and damage components. Another more popular option on the market, synchronous motors with AC power supplies, are brushless, but still present some meaningful limitations. For example, AC synchronous motors run at full torque and speed whenever engaged, so these models require downtime. They also lack "smart" features.

Next generation electric actuators utilize brushless DC technology. BLDC motors are engineered without brushes, instead utilizing a "smart" motor management system to control rotation. With no space wasted on brushes, these compact motors can provide more power and torque in the same dimensions as their brushed counterparts. Without the friction, these actuator motors also require much less maintenance. The brushless design of the RTK REact DC enables 100% running time.

However, a more consequential difference to the forward-thinking engineer than running time is the "intelligence" of the controller. Because there are no brushes to regulate rotary motion, and no alternating current to alternate magnetism in the motor, BLDC motors charge segments of the stator in a circular pattern to propel the rotor with a moving magnetic field. 

In order for the system to control the motor's rotation, to "know" where to align the stator's electromagnetic fields with the correct parts of the rotor, it gathers data on the speed and position of the rotor. To do this, Hall effect sensors are embedded to determine the relative position of motor parts. These Hall effect sensors enable intra-motor communication nonexistent in other technologies. Essentially, they feed real-time information on the outcome of the controller's decisions back to the controller. So, the system can detect a change in conditions by measuring how real outcomes differ from expected outcomes. For example, if changes to flow conditions cause greater resistance to the operation of the actuator, the Hall sensors will be able to sense that the rotor is moving at a lower speed than intended. Then, the intelligent controller will act on that information, accelerating electromagnetic rotations in order to make up for new conditions. This process is similar to how a driver would push down the gas pedal to maintain a car's speed up an incline.

Likewise, if flow conditions require less torque, the BLDC motor can reduce the amount of energy it uses. These "smart" motors can independently match speed and torque to conditions. As a result, BLDC motors such as the RTK REact DC can reduce energy consumption by over 60% compared to synchronous motors. 

Programming Flexibility for Flow Control

Additionally, because the BLDC motor's sensors and controller are digital and not mechanical, operators can select the speed at which they want the motor to run. Synchronous AC motors are limited to one mechanically predetermined speed, torque, and supply voltage, and each motor requires its own capacitor. So, in order to change the speed of an actuator in a system, a synchronous AC actuator must be replaced with another built to run at the desired speed. 

For BLDC actuators, though, changing speed is a matter of programming, not replacement. Models can include switches to select a number of speeds. For example, RTK REact DC actuators offer four speed presets which can be toggled by operators. The ability for a motor to self-regulate also serves as a maintenance prevention and safety feature; the REact DC is programmed with over force limiting to protect the actuator.

This flexibility is a boon to process engineers. A system may call for an actuator at one speed with one supply voltage at a critical juncture. Before, a spare actuator matching those precise characteristics would have to be kept in stock. With BLDC actuators like the REact DC, one unit can offer four speeds and can operate with two different supply voltages. This means that operators can keep one BLDC actuator on hand as a backup component to cover the equivalent of eight distinct synchronous AC actuator types used in a process.

A still greater benefit is the flexibility this provides engineers seeking to optimize a system. Engineers often install an actuator with a certain speed only to realize that the control loop does not function correctly. Now, with BLDC actuators, troubleshooting engineers can simply change the speed of the installed actuator instead of replacing it to get a process up and running.

Networking Smart Actuators for Efficient, Future-Proof Processes

Importantly, the internal communications of smart motors can be networked and monitored on system-wide scales. Actuators such as the REact DC sport LED lights to indicate actuating direction for easy maintenance, but operators no longer need to inspect each actuator by sight. The REact DC is built to be networked. This allows operators to remotely monitor temperature, number of strokes completed, running time, and actuator position, as well as flow direction and online/offline status for each actuator in a system. Then, operators can communicate with these remote units to make adjustments. This connectivity not only streamlines maintenance, as data can guide preventative measures before failures have a chance to occur, but can reveal data that can be used to make flow more efficient.

Excitingly, the hardware of today's BLDC actuator models enables connectivity now and in the future. Cutting-edge integration—REact DC actuators feature Profibus, and CAN-open integration—will surely be usurped by future communication systems, and "smart" actuators will require little retrofitting to function in these new networks. In the context of market growth driven by the desire to connect, the flexibility of the REact DC reveals its most salient advantage here: whether one designs a network connected by USB to a central computer or to function with a mobile app using QR codes, the BLDC actuator is a programmable tool able to deliver efficient actuation force according to changeable parameters.

BLDC Actuators: The New, Smart Actuator

While other actuators simply provide actuating force, BLDC actuators not only provide, but also monitor and adjust that force independently and on an ongoing basis—and according to parameters selected and reselected by operators. These capabilities put this new generation into a class of its own, but the greatest value to this technology is its networkability. As process engineers consider new electric actuators, they should consider BLDC models like the RTK REact DC to unlock efficiency and future-proof their systems.

More from Instrumentation, Systems & Automation

Emerson’s radar level gauge optimizes separation performance with industry-leading top liquid layer measurement capability

Emerson has enhanced its Rosemount 5300 Guided Wave Radar Level Transmitter to optimize separation process performance and prevent costly product ingress by accurately measuring a thinner top liquid layer in interface applications. The Rosemount 5300, which is the market-leading guided wave radar for liquid level measurement (VDC Research 2017), can now also perform measurements to the top of a tank, enabling increased throughput and profitability. Additional new features provide greater ease-of-use, increased safety and enhanced performance in the most challenging level and interface applications.

Intuitive, easy-to-use INOR Connect app makes it easy to configure a signal converter

INOR Process AB announces a whole new way to configure and monitor temperature transmitters without supply voltage and cables. Operators can connect to the transmitter with a smartphone or tablet using near-field communication (NFC) or Bluetooth and configure through the new INOR Connect app. Using wireless communication means operators never need to remove the signal converter from the process. Now available are the INOR 330 series temperature transmitters, and the INOR 530 series, fully compatible with HART 7.

Thermal mass flow meters simplify and reduce cost of natural gas flow measurement

Providing an accurate, simple, economical solution to the measurement of natural gas for industry, the ST75A and ST51A Thermal Flow Meters from Fluid Components International offer all the advantages of thermal mass flow sensing technology including accuracy, reliability, low maintenance, long life and low-life cycle costs.

Det-Tronics expands detection capability of X3302 Multispectrum Infrared Flame Detector

The X3302 multispectrum infrared flame detector (X3302) from Det-Tronics is now third-party approved for the industry's largest field-of-view for hydrogen fires, as well as approved for methane, methanol and synthesis gas (syngas) fires. Det-Tronics, a leader in fire- and gas-safety systems, is a part of Carrier, a global provider of innovative heating, ventilating air conditioning (HVAC), refrigeration, fire, security and building automation technologies.

New fingerboard control system from Festo provides enhanced safety, durability

Festo has made the world's first software-driven valve terminal - the VTEM Motion Terminal - the technology core of a new pneumatic fingerboard latching system for drill-rig tublars that offers enhanced safety and durability. This control and monitoring system utilizes the VTEM's intelligent valves to control and monitor the fully locked or completely open position of each latch in lieu of placing electronic sensors and wire harnesses on the fingerboard. 

KROHNE highlights OPTIWAVE radar level transmitters at 2019 ILTA show

KROHNE, Inc. announces it will highlight the OPTIWAVE 5400 and OPTIWAVE 7400 radar level transmitters for liquids in chemical, oil & gas and power industries at the 2019 International Liquid Terminals Association's (ILTA's) Annual Operating Conference & Trade Show, to be held June 3-5, 2019, at the George R. Brown Convention Center, in Houston, Texas, Booth 306. Also to be showcased will be the OPTIMASS 2400 twin straight tube Coriolis flowmeter. Experts will be on hand to conduct a demonstration of the OPTIMASS 1400, a cost-effective twin straight tube Coriolis mass flowmeter for a wide range of standard applications with gases and liquids. 

New SIL rated ST80 thermal mass flow meter for Safety Instrumented Systems (SIS)

Process and plant engineers designing or instrumenting safety integrity systems (SIS) requiring air or gas flow meters will want to discover the new SIL compliant ST80 Series Thermal Mass Flow Meter from Fluid Components International (FCI) FCI's ST80 has already been independently evaluated by industry expert exida for compliance and the FMEDA summary is available for review by prospective users.           


Get our newsletter

Learn more

Siemens, Chronicle to provide industrial cyber threat protection for energy industry

Siemens and Chronicle, an Alphabet company, today announced a new partnership to protect the energy industry's critical infrastructure from increasingly sophisticated and malicious industrial cyber threats at Spotlight on Innovation, Siemens flagship U.S. technology and innovation conference. Through a unified approach that will leverage Chronicle's Backstory platform and Siemens' strength in industrial cyber security, the combined offering gives energy customers unparalleled visibility across information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) to provide operational insights and confidentially act on threats.

Conduct reliable hydrostatic pressure tests with AMETEK STC XP2i

Within natural gas systems, one of the most important methods to verify the integrity of pipelines is through the hydrostatic pressure test. Designed to test the transmission systems - one of the largest sections in a natural gas system - the hydrostatic test varies on the level of requirements. Depending on local regulations, it may require testing pressure and multiple temperatures in the pipeline for several hours prior to and after a pipe is put into service.

AW-Lake upgrades hazardous area rated flow sensor

AW-Lake Company now offers its HUB-40EX Hazardous Area Rated Flow Sensor with a choice of either sinking or sourcing digital output and a choice of 316 stainless steel or aluminum junction box; or for areas with limited space, a version with no junction box at all.  Compatible with any stainless-steel AW-Lake flow meter, the explosion-proof frequency output sensor is ideal for use in any industry or flow measurement application requiring an explosion-proof sensor such as chemical injection or hydraulic fracturing.

AW-Lake expands Bluetooth products with new flow rate transmitter

AW-Lake adds the RT-50 Flow Rate Transmitter to its Bluetooth Series of Products that support remote monitoring and programming of its flow meters from the convenience of a smartphone.  The FAC-S Analog Output Sensor and FAC-R Frequency to Analog Converter also offer Bluetooth connectivity and analog output options when interfacing with AW-Lake Flow Meters and other instrumentation.  Bluetooth connectivity provides an added convenience for users to monitor and program flow meters from the convenience of a smart device.

  • The RT-50 Battery-Powered Flow Rate Transmitter offers a local and remote display of flow rates in locations where equipment is exposed to different environmental elements.  When operating locally, the transmitter offers a six-digit LCD display that continuously shows either the flow rate or total.   When using Bluetooth connectivity, users can opt to view readings and adjust rate, total, reset, sleep mode, or time on a smart device
  • The FAC-S  Analog Output Sensor is ideal for users of AW-Lake flow meters that want a voltage, current or handheld flow reading.  Mounted directly to a gear or turbine flow meter, the FAC-S Analog Output Sensor provides five user-selectable analog and current outputs including 4-20mA, 0-5V, 1-5V, 0-10V, and 2-.  Using the Bluetooth interface, users can program and watch live flow measurements from the convenience of a smartphone.  The microprocessor-based FAC-S Sensor supports process monitoring, data acquisition and signal conditioning in various industries.
  • A remote version of the FAC-S, the FAC-R Frequency to Analog Converter interfaces with flow meters, tachometers, pumps, motors and linear/rotational encoders to convert sensor frequency to current and analog outputs.  Bluetooth connectivity supports remote programming and flow monitoring from a smartphone.  An economical alternative to a PLC card, the FAC-R is ideal for use in process monitoring, data acquisition and virtually any application when sending an analog signal to a PLC or other control system. 

Rotary encoder from Pepperl+Fuchs allows custom configuration

The newly released ENI58PL series incremental rotary encoder from Pepperl+Fuchs offers incredible efficiency for a wide range of applications. IO-Link enables custom configuration, making it possible to commission machinery and equipment even faster. ENI58PL boasts flexible configuration options and a wide range of use cases-from classic industrial applications to special engineering. 

Low-temperature seal and diaphragm options for Swagelok regulators

Swagelok, a provider of fluid system products, assemblies, and services, has announced the release of a new low-temperature seal option. The new seal, a product expansion for the company's RHPS Series pressure regulators line, is designed to maintain a strong seal in cold climates and applications where significant cooling occurs due to high pressure drop. Comprised of low-temperature-resistant nitrile material, these regulator components are ideal for use even in environments with extensive presence of hydrocarbons, such as at large industrial gas suppliers' facilities where climate control may not be an option.


Get Our Magazine

Paper or Digital delivered monthly to you

Subscribe or Renew Learn more

POSITAL adds new communications interface for tilt sensors

POSITAL has added a new communications interface for its innovative Dynamic TILTIX series - making it even easier to use these smart and rugged instruments in mobile machinery and heavy duty construction vehicles. Now available with either CANopen or SAE J1939 interfaces, these acceleration-compensated tilt sensors are able to deliver accurate measurement under the harshest operating conditions, including rapid motions, shock and vibration loadings. 

Honeywell change management software helps increase control system performance

Honeywell announced the latest release of its change management software, offering users across the process industries significant performance and time savings benefits. Honeywell Trace R130 delivers daily snapshots of control system configuration, changes and engineering anomalies that help amplify users' situational awareness, enabling optimization of system management.

Web-based control system sets new standards in process industry

Siemens sets new standards in process automation and is launching an innovative web-based process control system for all industries at the Hannover Messe.  Simatic PCS neo is a brand-new system software, which offers companies in the process industry unique opportunities in the age of digitalization. Main features include global web-based collaboration in engineering and operation and intuitive handling representing all relevant information in a single workbench.

Liquid level for tough chemical service

Dynatrol CL-10GH Liquid Level Detector is the latest addition to the reliable Dynatrol line of high, intermediate and low point level detectors for liquids or slurries. It has no moving parts, floats, diaphragms or packing glands to deteriorate.  Successful applications in the Petroleum Chemical Industry include liquid hydrocarbons: (1) toluene hexane (2) ethanes (3) glycols (4) butadiene.

AW-Lake introduces PCU series of controllers

AW-Lake Company introduces its new PCU Series of Controllers that connect with Vogtlin or any thermal mass flow meter or controller to provide a local display of flow output.  Serving as a single- or multi-channel mass flow controller with up to four channels, the PCU instruments support multiple unit networked operations.   A large, high-contrast backlit display offers easy-to-read views of process variables and programmed setpoints for each connected device on one screen.

Inductive, contactless linear position sensor from Alliance Sensors Group

H. G. Schaevitz LLC, Alliance Sensors Group has released its LV-45 series inductive, contactless linear position sensor using LVIT Technology. The LV-45 linear position sensors are specifically designed for measuring applications requiring rugged devices, whether measuring position of steam turbine valves, mounted in a paper mill head box or calendar roll stand, or outdoors fastened to a building, bridge or structure. The LV-45 series was designed after identifying the wants and needs of engineers in the industrial world, so LV-45 Series linear position sensors can withstand the high vibration and severe shock environment found in steel, aluminum, and paper mills, as well as extremes of temperature and humidity found in most outdoor applications where many other types of linear position sensors cannot survive.

Schneider Electric partners with Vericlave to strengthen customers' cyber posture

Schneider Electric, the leader in the digital transformation of energy management and automation, has entered into a global partnership with Vericlave, a leading cybersecurity technology provider. Under the terms of the agreement, Schneider Electric will provide Vericlave's advanced encryption technology to further secure and protect its customers' critical IT and OT systems from the risk of cyberattack.

INOR announces IPAQ C/R330 universal temperature transmitter

INOR Process AB announces the INOR IPAQ C/R330 universal temperature transmitter, a modern, isolated, universal temperature transmitter developed for maximum flexibility, accuracy and reliability. Compatible with RTD and thermocouple sensors, Ω and mV inputs, the IPAQ C/R330's robust design offers high vibration resistance and noise immunity, guaranteeing reliable and accurate operation under the most demanding conditions.


Get our newsletter

Learn more

INOR Connect app makes configuring signal converter easy

INOR Process AB announces a whole new way to configure and monitor temperature transmitters without supply voltage and cables. Operators can connect to the transmitter with a smartphone or tablet using near-field communication (NFC) or Bluetooth and configure through the new INOR Connect app. Using wireless communication means operators never need to remove the signal converter from the process. Now available are the INOR 330 series temperature transmitters, and the INOR 530 series, fully compatible with HART 7.

New United Electric Controls gas detector offers carbon monoxide monitoring and flexible mounting

United Electric Controls, a producer of safety, alarm and shutdown technology, has announced that it has added carbon monoxide (CO) to the list of gases detected by the latest Vanguard WirelessHART gas detector.  Vanguard version 1.2 also includes new mounting flexibility and a variety of other features that enhance installation, configurability and maintainability.

Flashing sounders from Pfannenberg ideal for fixed gas detection

Pfannenberg, a global manufacturer of thermal management and signaling technologies, highlights the availability of rugged PATROL Series Flashing Sounders for fixed gas detection alarming. Designed to alert personnel of an evacuation when there is presence of hazardous gas, these combined signaling products increase safety when used with ammonia (NH3), carbon dioxide (CO2), freon (R22), methane (CH4), or chlorine (CL2) gas monitoring systems in energy generation, wastewater treatment, landfill applications, food and beverage manufacturing, refrigeration, gas production, agricultural chemical use and storage, and other industrial applications.

ST80 thermal mass flow meter launches with adaptive sensing technology

With the launch of its state-of-the-art ST80 Series Thermal Mass Flow Meter featuring breakthrough Adaptive Sensor Technology (AST), the process industry's air/gas flow measurement bar has been reset higher again for rangeability, accuracy, extended service life, reliability and application-matched solutions by Fluid Components International (FCI).

Winters’ PEM now available with vibration dampening solution

The PEM-ZR Economy StabiliZR gauge is now available from Winters. The StabiliZR version of the PEM economy gauges is available in 1.5" (40mm) to 4" (100mm) dial sizes, bottom and back connections from 1/8" to 1/4" NPT and ranges from vacuum to 5,000 psi/kPa. PEM-ZR is a general purpose gauge for plumbing, hydraulic and other applications where pulsation and vibration are present.

Siemens showcases smart solutions for industry-specific implementation of Industrie 4.0

Siemens will be placing smart solutions for the industry-specific implementation of Industrie 4.0 at the heart of its Hannover Messe 2019 presentation under the banner "Digital Enterprise - Thinking industry further!" Over an exhibition space of around 4,000 square meters in Hall 9, Siemens will be showcasing these solutions with an array of new additions to its Digital Enterprise offering designed to enable the digital transformation of the discrete and process industries. 


Get Our Magazine

Paper or Digital delivered monthly to you

Subscribe or Renew Learn more