Freeform Fabrication of Ionomeric Polymer-Metal Composite Actuators

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Malone, Evan
Lipson, Hod

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Ionomeric polymer-metal composite (IPMC) actuators are a type of soft electromechanically active material which offers large displacement, rapid motion with only ~1V stimulus. IPMC’s are entering commercial applications in toys (Ashley 2003) and biomedical devices (Soltanpour 2001; Shahinpoor 2002; Shahinpoor, Shahinpoor et al. 2003; Soltanpour and Shahinpoor 2003; Soltanpour and Shahinpoor 2004), but unfortunately they can only actuate by bending, limiting their utility. Freeform fabrication offers a possible means of producing IPMC with novel geometry and/or tightly integrated with mechanisms which can yield linear or more complex motion. We have developed materials and processes which allow us to freeform fabricate complete IPMC actuators and their fabrication substrate which will allow integration within other freeform fabricated devices. We have produced simple IPMC’s using our multiple material freeform fabrication system, and have demonstrated operation in air for more than 40 minutes and 256 bidirectional actuation cycles. The output stress scaled to input power is two orders of magnitude inferior to that of the best reported performance for devices produced in the traditional manner, but only slightly inferior to devices produced in a more similar manner. Possible explanations and paths to improvement are presented. Freeform fabrication of complete electroactive polymer actuators in unusual geometries, with tailored actuation behavior, and integrated with other freeform fabricated active components, will enable advances in biomedical device engineering, biologically inspired robotics, and other fields. This work constitutes the first demonstration of complete, functional, IPMC actuators produced entirely by freeform fabrication.


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