Micro-Manipulation and Bandwidth Characterization of Ionic Polymer Actuators

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Virginia Tech


Ionic polymer materials are a class of electroactive polymers that have been used in recent applications that take advantage of their large bending deflection. Although these materials have been around since the 1960s, it has only been in the last decade that their electromechanical coupling has been discovered. Because their life as a transducer has been relatively short, the underlying mechanisms for their mechanical motion have not yet been fully characterized. Modeling has been performed with ionic polymers, but there is no existing model, to date, that explains all the physical phenomena associated them.

The work presented in this document will contribute to the characterization of these materials. To better understand the dehydration effect of ionic polymers operating in an open air environment, research was performed to help characterize this effect. Through the use of frequency response analysis, trends were established showing how the material's response characteristics varied with time, as the polymer dehydrated. These tests were also run at different humidity levels to assess the impact environmental conditions had on the response. It was shown that lower humidity levels cause the system parameters to shift at a higher rate.

The two configurations tested were clamped-free and clamped-clamped, in an effort to bound the performance of the actuators for engineering applications. The clamped-clamped condition also facilitated applying tension to the polymers for evaluation of the dehydrating effects. Several comparisons to beam theory were made throughout the analysis, using it as a baseline condition illustrator. Though qualitative results were obtained with the polymers, there was much discrepancy in quantitative measures. This was to be expected though, because ionic polymers are composite actuators that exhibit nonlinear behavior, while uniform beams are linear.

Environmental testing was not all that was done, however. Control techniques were applied to improve the closed-loop performance of the actuators. Using proportional-integral control, it was demonstrated that ionic polymers are capable of tracking reference inputs better than it was previously thought. This result will validate future experimentation with ionic polymers for micro-manipulation applications. The simplicity of integral control also eliminated the need for cumbersome model derivations and control system designs, reducing the time necessary to implement and test an actuator. Through the use of this control algorithm, the closed-loop bandwidth was also characterized for the cantilever and clamped-clamped polymers.



bandwidth, micro-manipulation, IPMC, electroactive polymer, ionic polymer