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Fabrication of Soft Pneumatic Network Actuators with Oblique Chambers

Published: August 17th, 2018



1State Key Laboratory of Mechanical System and Vibration, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 2Robotics Institute, School of Mechanical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 3University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute, Shanghai Jiao Tong University
* These authors contributed equally

Here we present a fabrication method of soft pneumatic network actuators with oblique chambers. The actuators are capable of generating coupled bending and twisting motions, which broadens their application in soft robotics.

Soft pneumatic network actuators have become one of the most promising actuation devices in soft robotics which benefits from their large bending deformation and low input. However, their monotonous bending motion form in two-dimensional (2-D) space keeps them away from wide applications. This paper presents a detailed fabrication method of soft pneumatic network actuators with oblique chambers, to explore their motions in three-dimensional (3-D) space. The design of oblique chambers enables actuators with tunable coupled bending and twisting capabilities, which gives them the possibility to move dexterously in flexible manipulators, to become biologically inspired robots and medical devices. The fabrication process is based on the molding method, including the silicone elastomer preparation, chamber and base parts fabrication, actuator assembly, tubing connections, checks for leaks, and actuator repair. The fabrication method guarantees the rapid manufacturing of a series of actuators with only a few modifications in the molds. The test results show the high quality of the actuators and their prominent bending and twisting capabilities. Experiments of the gripper demonstrate the advantages of the development in adapting to objects with different diameters and providing sufficient friction.

Soft pneumatic actuators (SPAs) are soft devices that can be actuated by the simple input of air pressure1,2. They can be fabricated with diverse materials, such as silicone elastomers3, fabrics4, shape-memory polymers5, and dielectric elastomers6. Researchers have benefited from their nature of compliance, dexterous motions, and simple fabrication methods7, such that SPAs have become one of the most promising devices for soft robotics applications8,

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NOTE: The protocol provides the fabrication procedures of a soft pneumatic network actuator. Before the fabrication procedure, a set of molds and several actuator-tubing connectors, which are designed with computer-aided design (CAD) software must be 3-D-printed in advance. The molds are shown in Figure 1B.

1. Silicone Elastomer Preparation

  1. Weigh 5 g of silicone elastomer part B and 45 g of part A [9:1 (A:B) parts by weight] in the sam.......

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Single Actuator:
To verify the fabrication method and demonstrate the function of the actuator, 30°, 45°, and 60° actuators were fabricated and tested. For the experiment set-up, an air pump was employed to activate the valve. The valve was connected to the actuator to control the internal pressure. The single actuator was fixed at its connection end and placed vertically. While the actuator was being pressurized, two digital cameras were used to capt.......

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The paper presents a method protocol to guide the fabrication of soft pneumatic network actuators with oblique chambers. Following the protocol, one actuator can be fabricated independently within 3 h. The key steps in the protocol can be summarized as follows. (i) The silicone elastomer is prepared in proportion and mixed well. (ii) The silicone elastomer is poured into the mold for the fabrication of the chamber part and the base part. (iii) The bubbles on the exposed surface are pierced and any excess silicone elastom.......

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China under Grant 51622506 and the Science and Technology Commission of Shanghai Municipality under Grant 16JC1401000.


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Silicone elastomer Wacker ELASTOSIL M4601 A/B Material of the actuators
Syringe  Shanghai Kindly Medical Instruments  10 ml Used to inject silicone rubber into the hole of the mold for fabricating the connection end
Precision scale Shanghai Hochoice UTP-313 Used to weigh the silicone rubber
Planetary centrifugal vacuum mixer THINKY ARE-310 Used to mix the silicone rubber and defoam after mixing process
Release agent Smooth-on Release 200 Used for ease of demolding 
Needle Shanghai Kindly Medical Instruments  Used for Piercing the bubbles form on the surface
Utility blade M&G Chenguang Stationery ASS91325 Used for Scraping off excess silicone rubber along the upper surface of the mold 
Vacuum oven Ningbo SI Instrument DZF-6050 Used to reduce the cure time of the silicone rubber
Male stud push in fit pneumatic fitting Zhe Jiang BLCH Pneumatic Science & Technology PC4-01 Used to connect the tubing and the 3D-printed actuator tubing connector
Tubing SMC TU0425 Used for actuating the actuators
Vacuum pump Zhe Jiang BLCH Pneumatic Science & Technology Used as the air source
Pressure valve Zhe Jiang BLCH Pneumatic Science & Technology IR1000-01BG Used for adjusting the input air pressure

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