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.
In muscle variable impedance and ability to recruit fibers as needed helps enable actions such as walking and catching. A new biomimetic structure of nylon actuator is presented that imitates the human pennate muscle in structure, ability to vary stiffness and the ability to increase force by recruiting additional fibers. The actuator consists of 16 silver coated nylon coiled fibers attached to a central tendon at an angle of 20°. Each nylon coil produces 20 MPa of stress at constant length and nearly 20% strain at fixed load. Fibers are individually switched ON and OFF using transistors so that each element can be recruited, and the stiffness varied. The amount of input power is controlled with pulse width modulation (PWM) techniques. It is observed that the spring constant of the pennate structure varies from that of its passive state, 503 N/m and a resonance frequency of 1.4 Hz, to 1480 N/m with resonance frequency of 3.1 Hz in the active state where all the fibers are switched on under a 25 N load. Stiffness can be varied by a factor of 9.