Flexures make this six-degree-of-freedom positioner accurate to the micron level


It’s no secret that we think inflections are pretty cool, and we’ve featured a number of projects that take advantage of these conforming mechanics to great effect. But when we saw flexes used in a six-degree-of-freedom positioner with micron precision, we just had to dig a little deeper.

The device is known as the Hexblade, and it comes to us from the lab of [Jonathan Hopkins] at UCLA. We have to admit that sometimes the video below sounds a bit like the “Turbo Encabulator” schtick – “three identical decoupled actuation members arranged in an axisymmetric configuration” might be perfectly descriptive, but it doesn’t follow from the language. Hats off to [Professor Hopkins] to nail the storytelling, though, and really, once you get the lingo down, it all makes perfect sense. The platform is supported by a total of six flexes, which look like bent sheet metal pieces but are actually cut from a solid block of material using wire EDM. Three of the flexions are oriented in the plane of the platform, while the other three are perpendicular to it. The far end of each bend is connected to a voice coil actuator which is surrounded by another bend, this one in a parallelogram. The six actuators can move the platform smoothly through three linear translations (X, Y and Z) and three rotations (roll, pitch and yaw).

The rig’s range of motion is limited, but the advantages of using deflections as bearings are clear – there is no backlash or hysteresis, and the voice coils can control the position of the scene down to the micron. Something like the Hexblade would be an ideal positioner for microscopy, and we can imagine an even smaller version, perhaps even a MEMS-made version for nanofabrication applications. The original concept of the Hexblade serving as a printhead for a manufacturing robot for space applications is also pretty cool, and we dare say a homebrew version of that probably isn’t out of reach either.

Thanks to [IraqiGeek] for the tip.

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