A 3D Printed Linear Pneumatic Actuator for Position, Force and Impedance Control
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Although 3D printing has the potential to provide greater customization and to reduce the costs of creating actuators for industrial applications, the 3D printing of actuators is still a relatively new concept. We have developed a pneumatic actuator with 3D-printed parts and placed sensors for position and force control. So far, 3D printing has been used to create pneumatic actuators of the bellows type, thus having a limited travel distance, utilizing low pressures for actuation and being capable of only limited force production and response rates. In contrast, our actuator is linear with a large travel distance and operating at a relatively higher pressure, thus providing great forces and response rates, and this the main novelty of the work. We demonstrate solutions to key challenges that arise during the design and fabrication of 3D-printed linear actuators. These include: (1) the strategic use of metallic parts in high stress areas (i.e., the piston rod); (2) post-processing of the inner surface of the cylinder for smooth finish; (3) piston head design and seal placement for strong and leak-proof action; and (4) sensor choice and placement for position and force control. A permanent magnet placed in the piston head is detected using Hall effect sensors placed along the length of the cylinder to measure the position, and pressure sensors placed at the supply ports were used for force measurement. We demonstrate the actuator performing position, force and impedance control. Our work has the potential to open new avenues for creating less expensive, customizable and capable actuators for industrial and other applications.