Topology Optimization of a Passive Thermal Actuator

Harald Steiner1,  Wilfried Hortschitz1,  Franz Keplinger2,  Thilo Sauter1
1Center for Integrated Sensorsystems, Danube University Krems, 2Institute of Sensor and Actuator Systems, Vienna University of Technology


This paper presents a topology-optimized passive thermal actuator with a large thermal deflection. The actuator relies on the different coefficients of thermal expansion of the active material as well as the substrate and the temperature changes of the surrounding environment. COMSOL Multiphysics is used for the topology optimization algorithm. The resulting shape is approximated by straight beams for simpler fabrication. Two such shapes are arranged facing each other and coupled to a lever beam for a further increase of the temperature dependent deflection. The final design is manufactured using electroplated Ni on Si substrate and state-of-the-art micro fabrication processes. The structures are characterized in a temperature range from -30°C up to +40°C using a measurement setup comprising a sealable chamber, thermoelectric stage, and an optical microscope. The actuator exhibits a measured linear temperature deflection of 1 µm/K and a simulated force of 9.5 µN/K. The occupied area is 1.7x2.4 mm² while the area-specific work is 2.34 µJ/K²/m².