Fast actuation of conducting polymer trilayers has been achieved by reducing the thickness of the device to as little as 6 μm. Reducing size also reduces force and displacement. Here the tradeoffs between speed of response, force and deformation angle are explored, and related to an example application – a tactile feedback interface that aims to make use of the very high sensitivity of our fingertip skin to vibrations of about 150 Hz. In general, the actuation rate in these devices is limited by the speed of charging, and by inertia. Here we use an established transmission line model to simulate charging speed. By making use of the empirical relationship between strain and charge, and using beam bending theory, the extent of charging enables estimation of the degree of actuator deformation and the forces that can be generated. In seeking to achieve non-resonant actuation at frequencies of 150 Hz or more, while also generating the forces and displacements needed for tactile stimulation, it is found that electronic and ionic conductivities of the conducting polymer electrodes needs to be on the order of 24,000 S/m and 0.04 S/m, respectively. These values along with the required dimensions appear to be feasible.
Trilayer actuators enable large mechanical amplification, but at the expense of force. Thicker trilayers can generate more force, but displacement drops. Ideally of course a combination of high force and large displacement is desirable. In this work we explore the stacking of trilayers driven by conducting polymers in order to combine large force and reasonable deflection. Trilayer actuators operating in air are simulated using the finite element method. Force generated and the maximum beam deflection of individual and multiple stacked trilayers are studied in terms of the interface condition of the neighboring layers and the length of the auxiliary trilayer. The best performance is obtained when trilayers are able to slide with respect to each other so forces can add without impeding displacement. This case will require low friction and uniformity among the trilayers. Bonding of stacked trilayers along their entire length increases force, but dramatically reduces displacement. An alternative which leads to moderate displacements with increased force is the use of a long and a short trilayer that are bonded.