Why Are Linear Actuators So Expensive?

There are a number of reasons that some actuators are expensive

1. Quality and precision - We use high quality parts to ensure that each actuator meets the specifications listed on the data sheet. While we could use cheaper motors, electronics and other materials, we aren't willing to. OEMs need an actuator that they can rely on. To this end, we only source high-quality parts for our actuators. The problem is that it's hard for the end user to assess quality just by looking at an actuator. Two devices can look very similar on the outside, but one might be a cheap knockoff using low-quality motors and other components. Additionally, we have a robust testing system in place. Every single actuator that we sell is tested for functionality before leaving our facility. This adds cost, but ensures low failure rates which keeps our clients coming back.

2. Complexity - Even the smallest linear actuator has dozens of parts inside of it. For actuator companies who actually design and manufacture their own products like we do, there are many decisions to be made regarding quality, longevity and strength when choosing internal parts. These parts come from a variety of different suppliers. The relationships need to be managed, the parts constantly monitored for quality and sometimes, new component suppliers need to be sourced.

3. Size - Smaller actuators have smaller components. They're much more difficult to assemble and can have very tight tolerances. This adds to the price of individual components as well as the assembly cost per unit. With tiny actuators, it takes more skill to identify manufacturing issues that might be causing problems and rectify them. This is why many small actuators cost hundreds and in some cases, thousands of dollars per unit. Reducing size adds complexity and makes it more difficult to produce a consistent product.

4. Extra components - Some actuators do not include extra pieces required for operation. If the actuator has an included cable, adapter and mounting kit, these things add extra cost to the device, but save the end user from having to source these things themselves. When assessing an actuator supplier, consider whether or not their devices come with everything that is required to actually use the actuator, or if you will have to make additional purchases for each unit.

5. Limited production/custom units - Pricing on custom, limited production actuators is generally higher than off the shelf products. This increased pricing accounts for the extra design, manufacturing and testing work that goes into producing a custom device. Large volume OEMs can reduce this cost with volume purchases, or by customizing an existing model, rather than working with a company to produce an entirely custom linear actuator.

6. Buying local - Many actuator 'manufacturers' are selling rebranded Chinese devices, the likes of which can easily be purchased directly on Ali Express and other websites. The problem with this business model is that these resellers have no control over the quality of the products. Unless they test every single actuator, they don't know what quality of componentry was used in construction or how long they will last. When you choose to support a company that actually designs their own products, you're choosing to pay a little extra for a reliably quality product. 

Components that affect linear actuator price

As mentioned above, actuators have many parts inside of them. Manufacturers have to choose from hundreds of suppliers to find a balance where only quality parts are used in their devices, and a reasonable price point can be achieved. Unfortunately, this isn't usually a set-and-forget situation. Component manufacturers sometimes change ownership or materials and quality needs to be constantly monitored. If a part fails to meet specifications, a new supplier must be sourced. Below are some of the parts that you will find within an actuator, and have an effect on the final cost of the device. 

  • Motor
  • Gearbox
  • Clamshell housing
  • Aluminum or steel shaft
  • End tips
  • End limit switches
  • Circuit board and other electronic components
  • Cables
  • O rings
  • Screws
  • Bearings
  • Lubricant
  • Mounting components

Other cost factors to consider

There are a variety of other factors that can drive actuator cost. Testing for example, is huge. Some manufacturers just receive their stock from the factory and ship it straight out. Quality manufacturers we choose to at least batch test, or even better, test every single unit before it leaves their facility. This does increase cost but helps achieve high quality and low failure rates.

You can also expect to pay more for an actuator that has special ratings and certifications. Products with an IP rating, RoHS or other certifications will generally be more expensive than products that are not. Generally, the more specialized a product is, the more it will cost.

Of course, profit is also a consideration. Businesses based in the US and Canada generally need to make a higher profit to support their operations than companies that sell directly from China.

Another point worthy of consideration is whether the actuator you're considering is an original product. Every single actuator we sell is designed by our engineering team in Canada. Each component is individually selected for compatibility and quality. All of our designs are unique from the motor housing to the shaft and internal workings.

Several manufacturers, including well known companies have copied our products. You can find products that look nearly identical to Actuonix actuators all over the internet. They bear a variety of names and might be black or silver, but all look largely the same. The one thing they all have in common is that they are a reverse-engineered copy of our original design. We encourage consumers to ask questions about this when considering an actuator purchase.

Resellers who are purchasing these actuators wholesale from China don’t bear the additional costs of design and testing. This makes it possible for them to offer copies of our products at a typically lower price point.

How to identify copycat actuators

1. Ask questions - Before purchasing an actuator, ask the sales person directly if they're a reseller, or if the product is an original design. Ask them where the actuators are built, and who designed them. Typically, you will get your answer here.

2. Where does it ship from? - A reputable manufacturer will ship from a domestic source, resellers on Amazon and those with authoritative websites will often drop ship directly from China.

3. Branding - One of the ways that you can tell whether or not a company is actually building their own products is how they are branded. Actuonix actuators for example, feature our company name embossed into the plastic housing. Typically, resellers will apply a sticker to a generic product.

4. Packaging - Does the actuator come in branded packaging? If not, this is a red flag that it may be a fake product. We have seen actuators arrive in an unbranded cardboard box with nothing inside to tie it to the company it was purchased from.

How to reduce your linear actuator cost

We understand that the cost of high-quality linear actuators can be a challenge for many entities including robotics teams, university level teams, researchers and startups. To that end, we have created a number of discounts and incentives to reduce the cost of linear actuators for many of our clients. Below are some ways that you can reduce the cost of linear actuators.

Volume discounts - Our volume discounts start at ten units, and the price per unit goes down from there depending on the total units ordered.

Educational discounts - We offer limited educational discounts for products that are shipped to an educational facility.

FIRST Robotics discounts - We offer limited discounts to FIRST Robotics teams.

Development discounts - At our discretion, we sometimes offer development discounts to help startups with the costs associated with evaluating different models and determining what the best choice is for their application.

Is it worth paying more for high quality actuators?

Generally, yes. If you need a specialized actuator or linear servo, you’re likely going to pay more. That said, not all inexpensive actuators are low quality. We have found a balance of pricing and quality that has served our clients well for 20 years. For us, the key is selecting the right internals, rigorously testing new models to ensure that they meet performance and longevity requirements, and testing stock before it ships.

While it’s prudent to be wary of actuators that are considerably cheaper than the competition, a cheap actuator is not necessarily a bad actuator, and on the flip side, an expensive actuator is not necessarily a good actuator..

Browse Actuators From Actuonix Today

We hope that this article has adequately answered the question "why are linear actuators so expensive" and helped you better understand factors that affect actuator price. View our collection of actuators by model or industry today. As a leading manufacturer and innovator in the micro motion marketplace, Actuonix services companies big and small in a number of industries including aerospace, medical, robotics, and more. Get in touch with us today to submit an order or to submit an inquiry.