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Fast-Response-Time Shape-Memory-Effect Foam Actuators

Bulk shape memory alloys, such as Nitinol or CuAlZn, display strong recovery forces undergoing a phase transformation after being strained in their martensitic state. These recovery forces are used for actuation. As the phase transformation is thermally driven, the response time of the actuation can be slow, as the heat must be passively inserted or removed from the alloy.

Schematic Representation of the TiNi Torque Tube. The ends are integrated as hexagonal caps as shown in (b) and (c) shows a processed torque tube with a coupling at a representative length scale." class="caption" align="left">Shape memory alloy TiNi torque tubes have been investigated for at least 20 years and have demonstrated high actuation forces [3,000 in.-lb (≈340 N-m) torques] and are very lightweight. However, they are not easy to attach to
existing structures. Adhesives will fail in shear at low-torque loads and the TiNi is not weldable, so that mechanical crimp fits have been generally used. These are not reliable, especially in vibratory environments. The TiNi is also slow to heat up, as it can only be heated indirectly using heater and cooling must be done passively. This has restricted their use to on-off actuators where cycle times of approximately one minute is acceptable.

Self-propagating high-temperature synthesis (SHS) has been used in the past to make porous TiNi metal foams. Shape Change Technologies has been able to train SHS derived TiNi to exhibit the shape memory effect. As it is an open-celled material, fast response times were observed when the material was heated using hot and cold fluids.

A methodology was developed to make the open-celled porous TiNi foams as a tube with integrated hexagonal ends, which then becomes a torsional actuator with fast response times. Under processing developed independently, researchers were able to verify torques of 84 in.-lb (≈9.5 N-m) using an actuator weighing 1.3 oz (≈37 g) with very fast (<1/16th of a second) initial response times when hot and cold fluids were used to facilitate heat transfer.

Integrated structural connections were added as part of the net shape process, eliminating the need for welding, adhesives, or mechanical crimping. Inexpensive net-shape processing was used, which reduces the cost of the actuator by over a factor of 10 over nonporous TiNi made by hot drawing of tube or electrical discharge machining.

By forming the alloy as an open-celled foam, the surface area for heat transfer is dramatically increased, allowing for much faster response times. The technology also allows for net-shape fabrication of the actuator, which allows for structural connections to be integrated into the actuator material, making these actuators significantly less expensive.

Commercial applications include actuators for concepts such as the variable-area chevron and nozzle in jet aircraft. Lightweight tube or rod components can be supplied to interested parties.

This work was done by A. Peter Jardine of Shape Change Technologies LLC for Glenn Research Center. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Manufacturing & Prototyping category.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steve Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-18526-1.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Fast-Response-Time Shape-Memory-Effect Foam Actuators (reference LEW-18526-1) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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