Components in automotive and aerospace applications require a wide temperature range of operation. Newly discovered thermally active Baughman muscle potentially provides affordable and viable solutions for driving mechanical devices by heating them from room temperature, but little is known about their operation below room temperature. We study the mechanical behavior of nylon coil actuators by testing elastic modulus and by investigating tensile stroke as a function of temperature. Loads that range from 35 MPa to 155 MPa were applied. For the nylon used and the coiling conditions, active thermal contraction totals 19.5 % when the temperature is raised from -40 °C to 160 °C. The thermal contraction observed from -40 °C to 20°C is only ~2 %, whereas between 100 and 160 °C the contraction is 10 %. A marked increase in thermal contraction is occurs in the vicinity of the glass transition temperature (~ 45°C). The elastic modulus drops as temperature increases, from ~155 MPa at – 40 °C to 35 MPa at 200 °C. Interestingly the drop in active contraction with increasing load is small and much less than might be expected given the temperature dependence of modulus.
Highly oriented nylon and polyethylene fibres shrink in length when heated and expand in diameter. By twisting and then coiling monofilaments of these materials to form helical springs, the anisotropic thermal expansion has recently been shown to enable tensile actuation of up to 49% upon heating. Joule heating, by passing a current through a conductive coating on the surface of the filament, is a convenient method of controlling actuation. In previously reported work this has been done using highly flexible carbon nanotube sheets or commercially available silver coated fibres. In this work silver paint is used as the Joule heating element at the surface of the muscle. Up to 29% linear actuation is observed with energy and power densities reaching 840 kJ m-3 (528 J kg-1) and 1.1 kW kg-1 (operating at 0.1 Hz, 4% strain, 1.4 kg load). This simple coating method is readily accessible and can be applied to any polymer filament. Effective use of this technique relies on uniform coating to avoid temperature gradients.