Debris-Less and Spark-Free Shape Memory Alloy Based Release Mechanism

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Release mechanism including an actuator, design (a) and implementation (b)
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Researchers
Rajan Vaidyanathan, Ph.D.
Vinu Krishnan
Nhin Lam
David Schoenwald
Daniel Snyder
Daniel Watson
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Andrea Adkins
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Patent Protection

Shape memory-based actuators and release mechanisms therefrom

US Patent 8,209,976 B2

This invention embodies a shape memory alloy based mechanism for releasing a load without any electrical sparks and with no debris released utilizing a specific temperature as its trigger

Shape memory alloys are materials that are able to return to their original shape when heated. This shape recovery can occur against large forces, leading researchers to develop the next generation of actuators from such materials. Actuators are mechanical devices that can be used to move or control a system, e.g., a release mechanism. Defense, aeronautical, automotive and space industries rely on these release mechanisms for many applications in which heavy loads must be secured to a vehicle or structure for a period of time, and then released. Most often these loads must be released very rapidly and with high reliability, thus requiring specially designed mechanisms. However, some of the currently utilized mechanisms produce sparks and debris, which can potentially damage the vehicle for which the load is being released (e.g., space shuttle hold down bolts that use pyrotechnic based mechanisms). In addition, repeated use of these mechanisms is problematic and often too expensive to be viable.

Technical Details

A UCF engineering professor and students have designed a more reliable shape memory alloy release mechanism. The device is capable of securing and releasing heavy loads and has been tested to handle up to 1,000 pounds. The system is resistant to inadvertent release and requires no electrical sensors or signals to trigger. Finally, it functions in a debris-less and spark-free manner. The invention utilizes a shape memory alloy which will expand or contract, thereby triggering the release of its load depending solely on temperature. The temperature at which the payload is released can be customized based on the materials used to construct the shape memory alloy and/or the container that holds the alloy.

Benefits

  • Release mechanism is debris-less and spark-free
  • Chances of accidental release caused by vibrations is eliminated
  • Able to function with small, controlled accelerations in environments without any force of gravity acting on it
  • Able to hold and release heavy loads without the need of electrical power

Applications

  • Aerospace
    • Production of release mechanisms for solid-rocket booster separation and umbilical release
  • Defense
    • Quick release of military equipment (e.g., missiles, bombs, fuel tanks)
  • Automotive
    • Hood release mechanisms to reduce pedestrian impact