In the past, pneumatic and hydraulic systems have been the most common actuator types for aircraft due to their high power density and cost-effectiveness. However, in recent years, attention has been focused on the limitations of these systems, including their level of performance, weight, high maintenance requirements, and more. 

Recent advances in electromagnetic actuator technology have included more robust and efficient designs that offer increased power density and superior performance. This has resulted in a gradual shift towards the use of electromagnetic actuators in the aerospace and defense industries. 

At SEPAC, we’re a leading design expert in aircraft actuation components used to control everything from engine components to landing gear, cargo bay doors, and more. Our experience in the aerospace industry allows us to deliver quality electromagnetic brakes and clutches to meet your critical motion control requirements.


Overview of Aircraft Actuation Systems

Aircraft actuators work to convert electrical signals from the flight control system into mechanical movement. By facilitating precise and rapid adjustments, aircraft actuation systems help to ensure a safe and controlled flight. 

Actuators can be found in the primary and secondary flight control systems, as well as other areas in the aircraft.

  • Primary flight control systems. Primary flight control systems include elevators, rudders, and ailerons, which are necessary for controlling altitude and direction. Actuators are used to move primary flight control parts, and they have a large bearing on flight performance and reliability.
  • Secondary flight control systems. Actuators are used to control the movement of secondary flight control systems such as flaps, slats, and spoilers. These components further stabilize the aircraft, leading to greater maneuverability and performance.
  • Other actuation systems in aircraft. Actuators also provide safe and reliable operation of landing gear, thrust reversers, and other devices essential to safe takeoff, landing, and ground operations.


Traditional Aircraft Actuation Systems

Actuators are mechanical devices used to convert energy into motion. Before the introduction of electromagnetic actuators, aircraft relied on hydraulic or pneumatic actuation systems to control the movement of parts.

  • Hydraulic actuators. These systems rely on hydraulic fluid to transmit motion and force, providing robust actuation capabilities. However, they suffer from drawbacks such as potential leaks, complex and bulky infrastructure, and high maintenance costs.
  • Pneumatic actuators. Pneumatic actuator systems depend on compressed air or gas rather than fluid to transmit motion. While they eliminate the risk of fluid leaks, they come with other disadvantages, including their heavy weight and reduced efficiency.

While some aerospace applications continue to use hydraulic and pneumatic actuators, their drawbacks as well as recent technological advances have led to a shift toward electromagnetic aircraft actuation.


The Industry Shift to Electromagnetic Aircraft Actuation Systems

The limitations of hydraulic and pneumatic actuators, such as their larger footprint, high maintenance and operational costs, reliance on hydraulic/pneumatic power sources, and more, have resulted in a growing demand for electromagnetic actuation systems in aircraft. Electromagnetic actuators address the pain points of hydraulic and pneumatic systems by providing:

  • Increased reliability and safety. Electromagnetic actuators eliminate the risk of pneumatic and hydraulic fluid-related issues such as leaks and contamination. In addition, they offer enhanced fault detection and redundancy capabilities, as well as the reduced risk of system failure and improved safety margins.
  • Enhanced precision and control. Electromagnetic actuation systems provide high accuracy and repeatability of actuation, improved responsiveness and agility, and fine-tuned control for optimized aircraft performance.
  • Reduced weight and size. Compared to bulky hydraulic and pneumatic actuators, electromagnetic actuators are more compact for a more streamlined aircraft design. Additionally, they are more lightweight, resulting in improved fuel efficiency.

Important elements of any aircraft actuation system are brakes and clutches. At SEPAC, we are experts in delivering quality electromagnetic brakes and clutches for the aerospace industry. Our products are custom-designed for actuator system integration for applications such as thrust reversers, flap actuation, engine inlet control, and more.


Challenges and Considerations in Implementing Electromagnetic Actuators

When implementing electromagnetic actuators into aircraft, there are many key factors to consider, including:

  • Environmental factors (e.g., temperature, humidity, electromagnetic interference)
  • Power supply and energy management
  • Redundancy requirements for critical applications
  • Certification and regulatory requirements


Learn More about Electromagnetic Actuators

At SEPAC, we’ve been a leading provider of custom electromagnetic brakes and clutches since 1984. Our years of aerospace industry experience give us the necessary skills and knowledge to design quality electromechanical solutions that hold up under even the most demanding environments. 

For more information about the shift from traditional actuators to electromagnetic actuators, download our free Switching Hydraulic to Electromechanical Actuation eBook today. You can also contact us or request a quote to learn more about SEPAC’s latest electromagnetic actuator technologies for the aerospace industry.

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