In the simplest terms, a linear actuator is a mechanical device that develops force in a linear motion, either by hand or with a motor. In industrial applications, a typical electromechanical actuator includes a method of driving the linear motion, such as a ballscrew, toothed belt, or other system (for example, a linear motor) in addition to some method of guiding the motion, such as a ball rail or cam roller guide — and all of this mounted in a housing or frame. Most electromechanical actuators consist of these basic components in different combinations.

Certain compact modules, for example, use dual ball rail systems as the guiding mechanism inside a rigid aluminum housing for a good price-to-performance ratio and lower weight. Although not as precise or fast as standard compact modules, these actuators are suitable for applications with less rigorous load and speed requirements, such as pick-and-place, assembly, packaging, and material-handling tasks.

To lower the total cost of ownership (in addition to price) the modules are loaded with a programming package that shortens startup time; an integrated stepper motor allows positioning control. Special connectivity facilitates precise alignment and easy connection of axes and external attachments.