Fabrication process of silicone-based dielectric elastomer actuators
This contribution demonstrates the fabrication process of dielectric elastomer transducers (DETs). DETs are stretchable capacitors consisting of an elastomeric dielectric membrane sandwiched between two compliant electrodes. The large actuation strains of these transducers when used as actuators (over 300% area strain) and their soft and compliant nature has been exploited for a wide range of applications, including electrically tuneable optics, haptic feedback devices, wave-energy harvesting, deformable cell-culture devices, compliant grippers, and propulsion of a bio-inspired fish-like airship. In most cases, DETs are made with a commercial proprietary acrylic elastomer and with hand-applied electrodes of carbon powder or carbon grease. This combination leads to non-reproducible and slow actuators exhibiting viscoelastic creep and a short lifetime. We present here a complete process flow for the reproducible fabrication of DETs based on thin elastomeric silicone films, including casting of thin silicone membranes, membrane release and prestretching, patterning of robust compliant electrodes, assembly and testing. The membranes are cast on flexible polyethylene terephthalate (PET) substrates coated with a water-soluble sacrificial layer for ease of release. The electrodes consist of carbon black particles dispersed into a silicone matrix and patterned using a stamping technique, which leads to precisely-defined compliant electrodes that present a high adhesion to the dielectric membrane on which they are applied.