Design, Analysis, and Applications of Cellular Contact-Aided Compliant Mechanisms

Open Access
Mehta, Vipul Vijay
Graduate Program:
Mechanical Engineering
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 19, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Mary I Frecker, Dissertation Advisor
  • Mary I Frecker, Committee Chair
  • George A Lesieutre, Committee Chair
  • James Hansell Adair, Committee Member
  • Christopher Rahn, Committee Member
  • Timothy William Simpson, Committee Member
  • Contact-aided compliant mechanisms
  • topology optimization
  • meso-scaled structures
  • morphing aircraft skin
  • stress relief
A new class of compliant mechanisms utilizing the benefits of cellular geometry and contact are addressed in this work. The design, analysis, fabrication and testing of such structures for high-strain and high-strength applications is the focus of the present research. Cellular structures have relatively good strength-to-weight ratios. They also have a higher strain capability than solid structures. Contact during deformation reduces failure-causing bending stresses through stress relief, thereby enabling such cellular structures to be stretched more than the corresponding structures without contact. Both analytical and numerical models are developed to represent one specific mechanism. Several candidate materials are investigated for such mechanisms. Although the allowable strain of all these materials is small, the overall strain of the contact-aided cellular mechanisms is at least an order of magnitude greater than that of the constitutive material. Application of contact to different materials yields an improvement in the global strain capacity by more than 100% relative to cellular structures without contact. Experiments are conducted to validate the models, and good agreement is found. Size optimization is carried out to maximize the stress relief and the overall strain. Two main applications are considered in the present work. One application consists of a morphing aircraft skin for adaptive structures. Different material models such as linearly elastic and multi-linear elastic are examined. For linearly elastic materials, contact-induced stress-relief is advantageous and for nonlinear elastic materials, reduction of transverse deflection due to contact is useful. The proposed contact-aided skin structure is compared with a cellular skin without contact. The contact mechanism helps to increase the morphing capacity while decreasing the structural mass. Using contact-aided cellular mechanisms, the global strain capability is increased by as much as 37%. For a fixed global strain, the optimum contact-aided structure is 15% lighter than an optimum non-contact structure. Another application involves investigation of meso-scaled cellular structures. Two different materials are considered – nanoparticulate zirconia and particulate stainless steel. The lost mold rapid infiltration forming process is utilized to fabricate free standing cellular mechanisms. The analytical model is employed to address the tradeoffs between the manufacturing constraints and to design suitable contact-aided cellular mechanisms. A custom rig is developed to test these meso-scaled parts. Force displacement characteristics are experimentally obtained and compared against those found using the analytical model. Topology optimization tools are applied to the design of compliant cellular mechanisms with and without a contact mechanism. A two-step procedure is developed. For cellular structures without contact, an inverse homogenization method is employed. The compliant mechanism is optimized to yield prescribed elasticity coefficients and achieve a large effective elastic strain. To implement a contact mechanism in the second step, the continuum model of a non-contact structure is converted into a frame model. Only the non-overlapping designs are investigated exhaustively for stress relief. A differential evolution optimizer is used to maximize the stress relief. Four cell topologies are found for different effective properties corresponding to different structural requirements. For each such topology, a contact mechanism is devised that demonstrates stress relief. One such topology resulted a stress relief as high as 36%.