The fabrication procedure for the single-chamber shell-reinforced actuators and the multi-chamber unconstrained actuators is discussed in detail in this section. 

1. Shell-Reinforced SPA Fabrication

The technique used to fabricate the soft pneumatic actuators presented ensures robustness and repeatability in manufacturing, since it leaves minimal manual intervention and margin for error.

The actuators are composed of two main parts: 1) the actuator body and 2) the un-stretchable shell. The actuator body is made out of highly elastomeric siloxane material (EcoflexTM 00-30, Smooth-on-Inc., PA, USA). The un-stretchable shell is made from a much stiffer plastic material (polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Q-ConnectTM). Images of two types of fabricated actuators, in bending and linear motion are shown below. 


  • SINGLE STEP MOLDING: The actuator comprises of a single air chamber, created in a single-step molding process. This is done to avoid the traditionally used two-step molding process for creating soft pneumatic actuators in which two separate halves need to be glued to form the air chambers, thereby reducing fabrication errors and possibility of delamination at the interface.
  • GRIPPING AT CHAMBER ENDS: At each end of the chamber, an additional length of rubber material is provided to facilitate attachment of fixtures for gripping the actuator during testing, since gripping on the active chamber portion can potentially constrict the air flow passage and alter the performance of the actuator. 
  • END CAPS: To grip the actuator for testing, end-caps are attached at the actuator at the border of its air chamber, thus ensuring maximum force/torque delivery.


  • SHELL PATTERN: The un-stretchable shell mounted on top of the actuator body surface constrains the actuator body to inflate in only the desired configuration. The pattern created on the shell surface governs the displacement obtained. Bending and linear actuators were fabricated using the sequence shown below. 
  • LASER CUTTING: To construct the shells, 2D patterns are cut out of universal inkjet transparency films made from PET (Q-ConnectTM) using a laser cutter. Multiple slits are cut out on the shell surface in well-defined patterns. These slits permit the appropriate level of inflation of the contained rubbery material in the desired direction while the remaining uncut portion provides circumferential reinforcement to avoid excessive radial expansion of the actuator body.
  • ROLLING UP SHELLS AND GLUING: The cut patterns are then rolled up and glued into a cylindrical shape, to conform to the shape of the encased actuator body. Unlike the shell for bending actuators, which requires only one laser-cut pattern per shell, the shell for linear actuators consists of a glued assembly of two symmetric patterns (see Figure below). For these actuators, having two symmetrically layered glue-zone bands ensures the expansion of the actuator in the linear motion desired. 
  • ATTACHING SHELL TO BODY: To prevent the shell from slipping out over the actuator body at high pressures, the shell and the body are maintained in place by screws drilled through the end caps and the actuator wall thickness. To track the position of the actuator with a high speed camera, tracking points are also glued onto each end-cap.


From experimental testing, it was observed that at the border of the air chambers, the ballooning rate is approximately double than that at other portions along the the rest of the laces. This is due to the fact that the air flow at the edge of the chamber undergoes a dramatic change in cross-sectional area from a very small inlet diameter to a much larger diameter for the air chamber, thereby introducing vortices and turbulent flow in that region, leading to larger instabilities and inflation of the actuator body in that region. To compensate for this added inflation effect at the end of the chamber, slits that are half the width of the slits in all other portions on the shell surface are created at the extremities of the shell pattern. This design improvement is found to help substantially in achieving a uniform pattern of inflation with the actuators.

2. Multi-Chamber SPA Fabrication

These classical type of SPAs comprise multiple air chambers connected by narrow passages. The SPAs are fabricated using a conventional soft lithography process. The fabrication steps are listed below:

STEP 1. A 3D-printed mold defining the locations of the SPA chambers and their inter-connecting air channels is created.

STEP 2. Next, an elastomer in liquid form (EcoflexTM 00-30 from Smooth-on Inc.) is mixed using a centrifugal mixer then de-gassed in a vacuum chamber at 1.10−4 kPa.

STEP 3. This liquid is poured into the molds, de-gassed again, then cured for 45 min at 70 ◦C.

STEP 4. (1) For linear actuators two of the cured elastomer blocks are joined using a thin layer of uncured, de-gassed silicone applied by a procedure similar to sandwich micro-contact printing. (2) Using the same procedure, bending actuators are assembled by bonding the cured silicone block to a thin inextensible layer, fabricated by embedding a layer of silk fabric in a 0.75 mm-thick layer of de-gassed silicone cured at room temperature (image sequence for bending actuators at end of page).

STEP 5. The assembly is then cured at room temperature for two hours to guarantee proper bonding.

STEP 6. Finally, the assembly process is completed by inserting the air tubing (for all the SPAs in this work the tube length is 300 mm) and applying a flexible epoxy around it to ensure a proper seal.

The following images show step-by-step fabrication sequence for bending SPAs by including the additional un-stretchable layer.