When you think about an actuator (and let’s face it, it’s probably not all that often), you’d be likely to think of a solid metal item, with positioning functions, operated by either fluid, air or hydraulics. The best-known uses of actuators are probably within aircraft and aerospace industries. Until recently, that was certainly the case, but there’s a new kid on the block and actuators, as well as other traditionally solid objects, can now be made of silicone, by a technique better known in the geek community as soft robotics.
The versatility of silicone moulding means that virtually any shape can be cast and made into a replica of any moveable object. Innovators haven’t taken long to spot the value and possibilities and there has lately been a move towards objects being made with air cavities, that are able to replicate living, breathing parts. This is an exciting time to be an inventor and lends itself to new markets for 3D printer designers.
Using 3D printed moulds, students at NASA have been able to make a wide variety of parts from silicone, replicating lifelike moving hands and fingers. These naturally have a huge advantage over traditional robots, in that they are flexible enough to grasp objects in a way that wouldn’t be possible with grippers made from metal or composites. We may not be far off the time when we will see lifelike robots going into space to walk on planets where humans could not survive.
Where to look
Of course, new silicone products will need suitable moulds and these need to be made to a high specification, by a company with a respected place in the industry. Those who are serious about the quality of their new venture will want to use a leading company in that industry, such as https://www.meadex.co.uk/materials/silicone/#moulding.
For more information on sustainable solutions in silicone, with its numerous and very valuable uses, take a look at the Silica and Moulding Sands Association (SAMSA) (https://www.samsa.org.uk/).
Join the silicone revolution
If you’ve joined the new silicone revolution, then you’ll already be aware of the possibilities. If not, then think about subscribing to some of the more interesting news feeds or blogs, where you can keep up to date with the latest developments.