Description: Dr. Larry Howell and graduate student Ezekiel Merriam are improving the way single-piece, flexible mechanisms are designed.
- Start: September 1, 2013
- End: August 31, 2017
- Sponsor: NASA
- Principal Investigator: Larry Howell
- Co-PI: Ezekiel Merriam
- Website: https://compliantmechanisms.byu.edu/
Three years ago, graduate student Ezekiel Merriam was awarded a NASA Space Technology Research contribute to “NASA’s goal of creating innovative, new space technologies for our Nation’s science, exploration, and economic future.” A member of the Compliant Mechanisms Research group (CMR) at BYU, Ezekiel is focusing on the optimization of monolithic compliant mechanisms. He is working with faculty mentor Larry Howell, a professor in the mechanical engineering department. Dr. Howell is one of the leading experts and researchers in compliant mechanisms.
Monolithic mechanisms are structures created out of a single piece of material. As opposed to mechanisms which require joints or assembly of multiple parts, monolithic mechanisms are simpler and have a lower cost to manufacture because of their singular design. Additionally, monolithic designs are often more reliable than designs with multiple parts due to the absence of rubbing in joints and assembled parts. As opposed to structures that are completely rigid, compliant mechanisms are designed to be flexible. The combination of monolithic designs with compliant mechanisms is ideal due to the fact that compliant mechanisms use flexibility rather than jointed pieces that need to be assembled.
To build the mechanisms, Ezekiel is using additive technologies, more commonly known as 3D printing. 3D printing is a relatively new technology; the first 3D printer was used in 1984. 3D printing creates objects by constructing one layer on top of another. Using this technology is conducive to the manufacturing of monolithic structures because they are only made from a solid piece of material.
Ezekiel is focusing on two aspects of monolithic compliant mechanisms: their vibration characteristics and strain energy. Due to the flexibility of compliant mechanisms, they are prone to low natural vibration frequencies. This causes the mechanisms to vibrate, which inhibits their use, reliability, and function. Through his research, Ezekiel will work to increase the natural frequencies of these structures to optimize their use. Additionally, Ezekiel seeks to improve the large strain energy which affects compliant mechanisms. Because these structures are flexible, they also store internal energy. Ultimately, more energy is required to operate the mechanisms because they rely on flexibility rather than hinges or joints.
By increasing the reliability of these mechanisms through this research, Ezekiel will improve the design of monolithic compliant mechanism and their use in several applications, including space. These structures are far less complex, less expensive, and more reliable than traditional mechanisms because of their flexibility, fewer parts, and additive design. Through the use of additive technologies, Ezekiel is designing the way optimized compliant mechanisms will be used.