Dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) are a type of electroactive polymer device that can change their shape and/or size when stimulated with high voltage. They are inherently flexible, light and inexpensive. However, the requirement for a high voltage stimulus hinders their advantages. Theoretically, decreasing the size (thickness) of DEAs can lower the voltage requirement with the downside of also decreasing the power and strain outputs. One way to compensate for the decrease in power and strain at smaller scale is to form multi-layer DEA structures using smaller DEA units that will multiply the output while keeping the voltage low.
Conventional approaches for fabricating DEAs are not suitable for fabrication of stand-alone DEAs in micro-scale. In earlier studies, some possible alternatives were introduced for fabricating small scale multi-layer DEAs relying on soft-lithography, polymer solution casting and injection molding processes. DEAs were fabricated using poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) as the dielectric material. For the conductive layers, a conductive composite made of PDMS and multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) was used. This study evaluates the feasibility of each fabrication approach by comparing the output efficiency, repeatability, actuation force and distance of DEAs.