What Is the Difference Between Actuators and Sensors?

Actuators and sensors are two very common parts in machine assemblies, and they often work in combination with one another due to the way their characteristics align. Often, a sensor can be used as the input of a machine, while the actuator can function as the output. Therefore, they are often used in machines which must respond to environmental conditions with a physical action. In this blog, we discuss the major differences between actuators and sensors so that you may best use them within an assembly.

What Is an Actuator?

An actuator is a part of a device that helps it to complete a movement by converting energy into mechanical force. In essence, it is the component in any machine that enables movement. With such a broad definition, actuators have many different types, including magnetic, thermal, and electric variations. Five of the most common types are manual actuators, spring actuators, pneumatic actuators, electric actuators, and hydraulic actuators. The resulting action of an actuator will be a simple movement, but the mechanics behind it can become complicated depending on what power source they use.

What Is a Sensor?

Conversely, a sensor is a device which monitors environmental conditions like changes in temperature, voltage, fluid levels, vibrations, among others, by sending electrical signals in response to certain factors. Once a sensor observes changes in these conditions, it will send an alert or recorded data to the centralized computer system. One important application for sensors is in motor systems, where they can help monitor motor performance in the case of overheating and shut it off in response.

Difference Between Actuators and Sensors

Actuators and sensors often work in conjunction with one another, wherein a sensor can alert a computer system to trigger the actuator. This way, their various differences help them work seamlessly together when coupled in a system. Listed here are some of these core differences explained in more detail

Electrical Signaling: One difference between an actuator and sensor is that, while actuators measure motion energy or heat to determine their resulting action, sensors use electrical signaling for monitoring environmental conditions.

Input and Output Parameters: Another difference to consider is in their inputs and outputs. Where actuators follow the outputs of a system for deciding the next move, sensors monitor the inputs of their environment that trigger particular actions.

Location: In systems that use both actuators and sensors, the sensor is placed at the input port and the actuator is placed at the output port.

Reliance: Another difference between the actuator and sensor is in their reliance. In some tasks, the actuator will rely on the sensor to complete its task, but the sensor can never rely on the actuator.

Application: Actuators and sensors are also different in their usages. Typically, actuators are used for operating couplings, dampers, and valves, whereas sensors are most commonly used for measuring vibration, temperature, pressure, and fluid ranges.

Conversion Direction: Finally, the last difference is in conversion direction. The actuator tends to change an electrical signal into physical action, while the sensor converts a physical reaction into an electrical signal.


The differences between actuators and sensors are what allow them to work well in tandem with each other. Regardless of whether you need actuator or sensor parts for your assembly, you can always rely on Internet For Aviation for industrial components provided with unbeatable service. Partnered with a widespread network of suppliers, we guarantee expedited shipping for domestic and international orders alike. Begin the purchasing process with us today to experience how simple the procurement process can be when you partner with Internet For Aviation.


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