Thermal and Thermomechanical Behavior of Multi-Material Molded Modules with Embedded Electronic Components for Biologically-Inspired and Multi-Functional Structures

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Recently, there has been considerable interest in creating biologically-inspired structures, such as robots, and multi-functional structures, such as morphing aircraft fins, for use in environments that are considered hazardous for electronic systems. Cases in point are serpentine robots for use in search and rescue reconnaissance missions, and morphing chevrons for jet engines. These biologically-inspired and multi-functional structures require embedding sensitive electronic components in order to provide multi-functionality, such as actuation and sensing, while providing the thermal and mechanical protection these components need during operation in extreme environments. To this end, a multi-stage molding process has been implemented to affordably mass-produce multi-material modules with embedded electronic components for biologically-inspired and multi-functional structures. However, in designing and manufacturing modules using this process, it is necessary to consider two issues: (a) the heat generated during operation the electronic components can be appropriately managed to prevent thermal failure of the components, and (b) the thermomechanical response of the module to the multi-material molding process and the operation of the embedded electronic components will not lead to mechanical failure of the module. To gain insight into the thermal and thermomechanical behavior of these modules, experiments were designed and conducted to determine three critical design characteristics of the modules: (a) the steady-state thermal conductivity across the multi-material interface in a module, (b) the transient thermal response at the core of the multi-material module at elevated temperatures, and (c) the thermomechanical strains that develop around the embedded electronic components in the multi-material module during in-mold processing and operation of the components. Based on these experiments, analytical and numerical models are developed for predicting the thermal and thermomechanical behavior of multi-material modules with embedded components that provide a foundation for designing these modules for biologically-inspired and multi-functional structures. A prototype serpentine robot designed with multi-functional modular structures is presented, and complementary thermal and mechanical testing of a new prototype multi-material module with an embedded component for this biologically-inspired structure designed for thermal and impact resistance is also presented.