How a Small Electric Actuator Operates Automotive Headlights

Aside from mechanics and car buffs, most people who drive automobiles have no idea that small electric actuators—also known as miniature actuators—are at work, performing various automotive functions that are taken for granted. One of the more interesting automotive actuator applications involves headlights that move to track and illuminate the road, a feature that has become prevalent in many high-end models.

This article will examine how a small electric actuator is used to perform this and other automotive functions.

Headlight Motors and Leveling Systems

Most headlights are static—they don't move—and maintain the position and orientation of the vehicle on which they are mounted. However, on many cars, the pair of headlights can move—either up and down or side to side—to focus the beams of light on curving or undulating road surfaces more effectively. This movement is controlled by a small actuator that is driven by a permanent magnet motor.

The headlight motor and actuator control the individual positioning of the vehicle's headlights. An electronic system typically does this via the cam-operated switch that controls each headlight motor and a switch on the car's dashboard.

Mini electric linear actuators are the preferred option for this application because they convert energy into different types of linear motion, just like standard actuators, but in small envelopes. Because they are so much smaller than standard actuators, mini actuators are perfect for providing linear actuation in tight, compact spaces, like an automotive headlight mount.

NEMA 8 External Stepper Motor Linear Actuator

Small actuators also drive automatic headlight leveling systems, which adapt the headlamp's inclination angle to the vehicle's position. Headlight leveling systems are required by law for cars with xenon headlamps and come in two types: semi-static and dynamic systems.

With semi-static headlight leveling systems, headlamp leveling corrects only changes in inclination caused by changes in load. Dynamic headlight leveling systems used on cars with xenon headlamps change the system's driving inclination, including acceleration and braking.

Other Electric Actuator Uses in Automobiles

Actuators have played such an important role in automobile evolution that the modern car as we know it today would not exist without them. In the past, cars had only analog mechanical actuators, which enabled manual winding up and down of windows, and manual seat adjustments. The advent of the mini electric actuator has ushered in a proliferation of possible automotive applications. If fact, today’s average car has more than 100 hydraulic, pneumatic, and actuators within it.

In addition to headlight positioning systems, actuators in automobiles, also:

  •  Power windshield wipers
  • Lock car doors
  • Open and close hoods and trunks
  • Actuate the car's throttle
  • Actuate a car's parking brake
  • Control fuel injectors
  • Index gearboxes and provide clutch control
  • Extend and contract audio system components, such as sliding doors and covers
  • Open gas cap covers
  • Drive power steering and power brake systems

Use Helix Linear Technologies Actuators for Your Automotive Linear Motion Control Applications

Consult with a Helix Linear Technologies automotive application engineering specialist for all of your automotive linear actuator needs. Helix Linear supplies the electric linear actuators that are common in many of today's automobiles. With Helix Linear as your linear motion partner, you will work with a company that brings years of experience, world-class engineering expertise, and innovative solutions to bear in solving your most challenging linear actuator requirements.