Flexure mechanisms


Flexure-based mechanisms utilize flexible elements, such as leaf springs and elastic hinges, which deform under load, providing controlled motion. Unlike traditional mechanisms that rely on joints and bearings, flexure-based systems achieve movement through the elastic deformation of these flexures, ensuring backlash and friction free motion without the need for lubrication or maintenance.

  1. High precision: one of the most significant advantages of flexure-based mechanisms is their ability to achieve high precision and repeatability in positioning applications. The lack of wear and backlash, common in traditional mechanisms, allows for accurate movements.
  2. No friction or lubrication: since there are no sliding or rolling contacts, flexure-based mechanisms operate without friction. This eliminates the need for lubrication, reducing maintenance requirements and the risk of contamination, a critical factor in clean room environments.
  3. Simplicity and reliability: with fewer moving parts, these mechanisms are inherently simpler and more reliable. Their design can be highly compact and integrated, enhancing the overall robustness of the system.
  4. Vacuum compatibility: the absence of lubrication and out-gassing materials makes flexure-based mechanisms ideal for vacuum applications.
  1. Limited range of motion: the primary drawback of flexure-based mechanisms is their limited range of motion, confined by the elastic limits of the materials used. This makes them less suited for applications requiring large displacements.
  2. Complex design and manufacturing: designing flexure-based systems requires sophisticated engineering tools to accurately predict flexural behavior and stress distribution. Additionally, manufacturing these mechanisms often involves precision machining and fabrication techniques, increasing production costs.
  3. Material fatigue: repeated deformation can lead to material fatigue, potentially reducing the mechanism’s lifetime. Selecting appropriate materials and designing for durability are crucial considerations.

Flexure-based mechanisms find their applications in several fields where precision is paramount:

  • Micro- and Nano-positioning: in semiconductor manufacturing and microscopy, they enable precise manipulation and positioning at the micro- and nano-scale.
  • Optical alignment: used in telescopes, cameras, and laser systems to achieve fine adjustments in lens and mirror positions.
  • Biomedical devices: for surgical tools and laboratory instruments, where precise, smooth motion is necessary.
  • Aerospace: in satellite components and space telescopes, where reliability and vacuum compatibility are critical.
Case study

Micrometer-level positioning with a simple screw🔩? Yes, why not…

The video below shows a 3D-printed prototype of a flexure-based mechanism to validate a micrometer-level positioning concept. The compliant mechanism consists of a symmetric double parallelogram flexure and a 1:15 transmission ratio. A 1.5 mm screw displacement translates into a precise 100 micrometer movement.