Zipping it up: DEAs independent of the elastomer's electric breakdown field
We demonstrate here an alternative dielectric elastomer actuator (DEA) structure, which relies on the compliant nature of elastomer membranes but does not require any electric field in the elastomer. Our elastomer zipping device is a macroscopic version of the electrostatic zipping actuators common in silicon MEMS. It consists of a cm-sized metallic bottom electrode, covered by a thin insulator, on which the elastomer membrane is bonded, enclosing a tapered air gap. A compliant electrode is patterned on the lower face of the elastomer membrane. Applying a voltage between solid bottom electrode and compliant electrode leads to controlled pull-in in movement, comparable to the closing of a zipper, thus giving large strokes and forces with no electrical requirements on the elastomer since no voltage is applied across the membrane. The compliant electrodes (20 mm diameter) are produced by metal ion-implantation into the elastomer membranes. The bottom metal electrodes are coated with 10 to 30 μm of Al2O3. We report on our experimental study of membrane deflection and dynamics and discuss the effect of design parameters such as elastomer mechanical properties and actuator geometry. Membrane deflection of up to 1.4 mm was reached at only 200 V actuation voltage. The large membrane deformation achieved with this zipping actuation can be applied to applications such as pumps or tunable liquid lenses. The out-of plane movement of the membrane can be used for linear actuation.