Thus far we have seen a selection of Input devices that can be used to detect or “sense” a variety of physical variables and signals and are therefore called Sensors. But there are also a variety of electrical and electronic devices which are classed as Output devices used to control or operate some external physical process. These output devices are commonly called Actuators.
Actuators convert an electrical signal into a corresponding physical quantity such as movement, force, sound etc. An actuator is also classed as a transducer because it changes one type of physical quantity into another and is usually activated or operated by a low voltage command signal. Actuators can be classed as either binary or continuous devices based upon the number of stable states their output has.
For example, a relay is a binary actuator as it has two stable states, either energised and latched or de-energised and unlatched, while a motor is a continuous actuator because it can rotate through a full 360o motion. The most common types of actuators or output devices are Electrical Relays, Lights, Motors and Loudspeakers.
We saw previously that solenoids can be used to electrically open latches, doors, open or close valves, and in a variety of robotic and mechatronic applications, etc. However, if the solenoid plunger is used to operate one or more sets of electrical contacts, we have a device called a relay that is so useful it can be used in an infinite number of different ways and in this tutorial we will look at Electrical Relays.
Electrical Relays can also be divided into mechanical action relays called “Electromechanical Relays” and those which use semiconductor transistors, thyristors, triacs, etc, as their switching device called “Solid State Relays” or SSR’s.