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Electromechanical Characterization of 3D-Printed Dielectric Material for Dielectric Electroactive Polymer Actuators

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Dielectric electroactive polymers (DEAPs) represent a subclass of smart materials that can convert between electrical and mechanical energy.  These materials can be used as energy harvesters, sensors, and actuators.  However, current production and testing of these devices is limited and requires multiple step processes for fabrication. This paper presents an alternate production method via 3D printing using Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) as a dielectric elastomer.  This study provides electromechanical characterization of flexible dielectric films produced by additive manufacturing and demonstrates their use as DEAP actuators. The dielectric material characterization of TPU includes: measurement of the dielectric constant, percentage radial elongation, tensile properties, pre-strain effects on actuation, surface topography, and measured actuation under high voltage. The results demonstrated a high dielectric constant and ideal elongation performance for this material, making the material suitable for use as a DEAP actuator. In addition, it was experimentally determined that the tensile properties of the material depend on the printing angle and thickness of the samples thereby making these properties controllable using 3D printing. Using surface topography, it was possible to analyze how the printing path, affects the roughness of the films and consequently affects the voltage breakdown of the structure and creates preferential deformation directions. Actuators produced with concentric circle paths produced an area expansion of 4.73% uniformly in all directions.

Learning Objectives:

  • The current study will aim to motivate researchers to design and test different 3D printed structures, as well as improve or optimize the current manufacturing processes for these structures
  • Analyze novel design to 3D print dielectric electro active structures achieving versatility in the possible designs and performance
  • Analyze an alternate production method for electroactive structures via 3D printing, using Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) as a dielectric elastomer