Transition of EAP materials to practical applications requires effective processing techniques to allow the fabrication of electroded actuators that are shaped to the desired configuration. These methods need to produce consistent material, maximize the actuation capability and assure the performance and durability of the material. Once EAP actuators are made they may need to be integrated with sensors and packaged with electronic and mechanical components to form a functional system. As described in Chapter 1, the availability of effective processing methods is a critical part of the EAP technology and its infrastructure. Optimization of the response of existing materials or the development of new EAPs requires the use of systematic approaches rather than a hit-or-miss evolutionary process that is subject to false starts and wasted efforts. Computational chemistry [Chapter 10] offers the hope to enhance the understanding of the phenomena responsible for the response of the various EAP materials and may provide tools for the design of effective materials. Once a new EAP material or structure is analytically predicted to have an efficient response, a synthesis method is required to produce the predicted material. Polymer modeling tools in the form of commercial software packages are available and have been in use for a number of years by manufacturers of plastic materials and drugs. The available software packages are capable of predicting thermal expansion coefficients and bulk moduli of crystallike arrays or amorphous assemblies of simple molecules at a specified density. Studies are currently under way to apply similar techniques to model high-performance polymeric materials.
As an emerging field, there are no established processing techniques for fabricating or mass-producing EAP materials. Producing such materials can rely on existing techniques of making polymer-based materials and structures. Some modifications may be needed to account for the unique requirements of the specific EAP materials. In preparing this chapter, efforts were made to identify reported processes of producing EAP and methods that seemed to be applicable for making such materials at various scales. Some of the methods that are described include ink-jet printing, ionic self-assembled monolayering (ISAM), spincoating, and lithography.
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