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The paper describes a type of variable air-gap reluctance actuator that offers potential for enhancing the dynamic performance of electromagnetic valve actuation systems for internal combustion engines. In both the stator and armature, the actuator incorporates design features that allow the force-displacement characteristic to be tailored to meet operational requirements. The paper demonstrates the considerable scope for varying actuator characteristics by means of detailed two- and three-dimensional finite-element modeling. The key findings from the finite-element modeling are validated by experimental measurements on a prototype actuator.