In this contribution we present recent findings of our efforts to qualify the so called Aerosol-Jet-Printing process as an additive manufacturing approach for stacked dielectric elastomer actuators (DEA). With the presented system we are able to print the two essential structural elements dielectric layer and electrode in one machine. The system is capable of generating RTV-2 silicone layers made of Wacker Elastosil P 7670. Therefore, two aerosol streams of both precursor components A and B are generated in parallel and mixed in one printing nozzle that is attached to a 4-axis kinematic. At maximum speed the printing of one circular Elastosil layer with a calculated thickness of 10 μm and a diameter of 1 cm takes 12 seconds while the process keeps stable for 4.5 hours allowing a quite high overall material output and the generation of numerous silicone layers. By adding a second printing nozzle and the infrastructure to generate a third aerosol, the system is also capable of printing inks with conductive particles in parallel to the silicone. We have printed a reduced graphene oxide (rGO) ink prepared in our lab to generate electrodes on VHB 4905, Elastosil foils and finally on Aerosol-Jet-Printed Elastosil layers. With rGO ink printed on Elastosil foil, layers with a 4-point measured sheet resistance as low as 4 kΩ can be realized leaving room for improving the electrode printing time, which at the moment is not as good as the quite good time-frame for printing the silicone layers. Up to now we have used the system to print a fully functional two-layer stacked DEA to demonstrate the principle of continuously 3D printing actuators.
Dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) have a lot of advantages such as high energy efficiency, unrivaled power-toweight ratio and soft structure. Furthermore this new kind of actuator is capable of sensing its deformation and status without additional sensing devices. Therefore, DEAs are acknowledged as self-sensing actuators. In this contribution a new self-sensing technique for DEAs is presented, in which the capacitance of DEAs under deformation is measured using high voltage signals. For this purpose, simple signal processing algorithms and a novel method of superimposing actuating and sensing signals are implemented. By connecting the ground potential electrode of the DEA to a sinusoidal sensing signal, the DEA is used as a passive first order high-pass filter. The other electrode of the DEA is connected to the actuation voltage, which is superimposed with the sinusoidal signal. The amplitude of this signal is basically dependent on the capacitance of the actuator. Therefore, the change of the capacitance induced by contraction of the actuator alters the amplitude of the sinusoidal signal. The amplitude change can then be interpreted as capacity change and can be used to estimate the mechanical deformation of the DEA. In comparison to existing methods, this approach is promising for a miniaturized circuit and therefore for later use in mobile systems. In this paper, the new concept of superimposing actuating and sensing signals for self-sensing DEAs is validated with an experimental setup and several known capacities. The first results are presented and discussed in detail.