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How to calculate linear actuator position?

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How to calculate linear actuator position?

2023-12-11 15:47:03

Linear actuators are fundamental components in various industrial, automotive, and consumer applications, where precise linear motion is required. Calculating the position of a linear actuator is crucial for the accurate control of mechanical systems. This essay provides an in-depth analysis of the methodologies and considerations involved in determining the position of a linear actuator, ensuring that you can achieve high levels of precision and reliability in their applications.

Understanding Linear Actuators

Types of Linear Actuators

There are various types of linear actuators, including pneumatic, hydraulic, and electric (which can be further divided into stepper, servo, and DC actuators). Each type uses a different method to achieve the same result: controlled linear displacement.

Basic Calculation Methodology

The position of a linear actuator can generally be calculated by measuring the extension of the actuator from a known starting point. This can be done using various sensing technologies, like potentiometers, encoders, or Hall effect sensors, which provide feedback on the actuator's extension.

Sensing Technologies for Position Feedback


Potentiometers are variable resistors that change their resistance value as the actuator moves. They are directly connected to the actuator's moving part and provide an analog voltage that correlates to the position.


Encoders, which can be either incremental or absolute, emit a series of pulses as the actuator moves. These pulses are counted to determine the distance traveled from a specific reference point.

Hall Effect Sensors

Hall effect sensors detect the presence of a magnetic field and are used in conjunction with a magnet attached to the moving part of the actuator. The sensor outputs a voltage that varies with the change in magnetic field position.

Calculating Position with Potentiometers

Voltage-Distance Relationship

The voltage output from a potentiometer can be translated into a position measurement by establishing a relationship between the voltage range and the mechanical range of the actuator.


Calibration involves defining the voltage output when the actuator is fully retracted and fully extended, which corresponds to the minimum and maximum resistance of the potentiometer.

Calculating Position with Encoders

Pulse Counting

The number of pulses counted from an encoder is directly proportional to the distance moved by the actuator. By knowing the distance per pulse, which is determined by the encoder's resolution, the total distance moved can be calculated.

Directional Movement

For incremental encoders, additional signals are used to determine the direction of movement, ensuring that the pulse count increases or decreases accordingly.

Calculating Position with Hall Effect Sensors

Magnetic Field Mapping

The voltage output from a Hall effect sensor is mapped against the position of the magnet, creating a profile that can be used to determine the actuator's position.

Sensor Calibration

Similar to potentiometers, calibration is necessary to establish the voltage output at known positions of the actuator to ensure accurate position calculations.

Advanced Considerations

Non-Linearity and Error Compensation

Sensors may exhibit non-linear behavior, and error compensation techniques are necessary to correct for any deviations from the expected output.

Environmental Factors

Temperature, vibration, and other environmental factors can affect sensor performance. These must be accounted for to maintain the accuracy of position calculations.


Calculating the position of a linear actuator with precision is a multi-faceted task that requires a thorough understanding of the actuator's mechanics, the appropriate selection and implementation of sensing technologies, and the application of accurate calibration techniques. Whether using potentiometers, encoders, or Hall effect sensors, you should consider factors such as non-linearity, environmental influences, and the specific requirements of the application to ensure precise control.

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