This study aims to investigate the effects of various design parameters on the actuation performance of a pneumatic network actuator (PNA), optimise its structure using the finite element method (FEM), and subsequently quantify the performance of the resulting actuator topology experimentally. The effects of the structural parameters, including the operation pressure, the wall thickness and the gap between the chambers, bottom layer thickness, and the geometry of the channel cross section, on the deformation and bending angle of the actuator were evaluated to optimise the performance of the pneumatic actuator. A Global Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was performed to investigate how the variables affect the mechanical output of the actuator and, thus, the significance of variables affecting the deformation (and bending angle) of the pneumatic actuator was identified. After the parameter optimisation, a pneumatic channel with a 4.5 mm bottom layer thickness, 1.5 mm wall thickness, and 1.5 mm gap between sequential chambers is recommended to perform optimised bending motion for the pneumatic network actuator. The optimised FE model results were verified experimentally. This design optimisation method based on the FEM and ANOVA analysis can be extended to the topology optimisation of other soft actuators.
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