Despite several decades of R&D and first applications, the EAP field is still far from mature. Why is this? Challenges, such as performance, long-term stability and reliable mass production, need further development to tailor the properties to the requirements of each target application. The market potential as forcasted by IDTechEx Research is as high as USD 2.25 billion by 2018, dominated by consumer electronics, actuators and sensors applications. The new IDTechEx Research report "Electroactive Polymers and Devices 2013-2018: Forecasts, Technologies, Players" ( www.IDTechEx.com/eap) explores the market fully for the next six years, but what will the next couple of years bring?
EAPs are part of the broad group of smart materials. The use of polymers with electroactive response has only emerged in the last decade with the introduction of new materials which have significant displacement levels. These materials are highly attractive for their low-density, large strain capability, superior spectral response, and resilience. In general, the biggest advantages over conventionally used systems in most application fields are the intermittent displacement they can provide, an adaptable stiffness combined with variable size and form factors from micrometers to meters. Companies like Artificial Muscle (AMI) of Bayer MaterialsScience and Strategic Polymers (SPS) have been able to tune the properties even further. AMI's were able to eliminate the issues with high driving electric fields. Their dielectric EAP based actuator has an average power consumption of just 1.5mW and already passed mobile qualification tests. And SPS’ PVDF terpolymer based EMP actuators show comparable high deformation strain in the range of 0.5-2.5%.
The following matrix shows a comparison of the main EAP types by maximum strain, pressure and efficiency, as well as the driving electric field and cycle time.
Table 1. Electronic vs. Ionic EAP
Source: IDTechEx report "Electroactive Polymers and Devices 2013-2018: Forecasts, Technologies, Players" ( www.IDTechEx.com/eap)
Large variety of applications
The market potential is large, EAPs can be used in various