Manufacturing Methods for Medium-Volume Production of Planar Dielectric Elastomer Actuators
Little, Ryan Christopher
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Dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) are a class of synthetic muscles which can be used in contexts such as robotics and powered prostheses, with the additional benefits of being lighter, quieter, and requiring fewer components than their mechanical counterparts. Existing research in this field focuses more on actuator design, modeling, and materials development than the method by which they are fabricated. The manufacturing methods used in prior works are inappropriate for a small lab that desires a reasonable degree of uniformity and precision; one-off manufacturing of DEAs does not provide adequate precision, and an automated solution for high-volume manufacturing runs is too expensive and takes up excessive floor space. This thesis presents a manufacturing method which achieves reasonable uniformity at low cost for medium-volume production. We found that by using readily available DEA materials and consumer-grade desktop fabrication tools such as a 3D printer and an automated cutting machine, the issues inherent in existing low and high-volume manufacturing methods are eliminated. Our method produced a medium quantity of actuators at a low cost without the use of dedicated floor space and machinery, and experiments showed that they functioned reliably in isolation and in assembly.