In our group, we are developing flexure hinge based manipulators made of nitinol for minimally invasive surgery. On the one hand, sufficient flexibility is required from flexure hinges to be able to cover the surgical workspace. On the other hand, the bending amount of the flexure hinges has to be limited below the yielding point to ensure a safe operation. As a result of these considerations, it has to be questioned how much bending angle a nitinol flexure hinge with given geometric dimensions can provide without being subject to plastic deformation. Due to the nonlinearities resulting from large deflections and the material itself, the applicability of the suggested approaches in the literature regarding compliance modeling of flexure hinges is doubtful. Therefore, a series of experiments was conducted in order to characterize the rectangular cross section nitinol flexure hinges regarding the flexibility-strength trade-off. The nitinol flexure hinge samples were fabricated by wire electrical discharge machining in varying thicknesses while keeping the length constant and in varying lengths while keeping the thickness constant. The samples were loaded and unloaded incrementally until deflections beyond visible plastic deformation occured. Each pose in loaded and unloaded states was recorded by means of a digital microscope. The deflection angles yielding to permanent set values corresponding to 0.1% strain were measured and considered as elastic limit. A quasilinear correlation between maximum elastic deflection angle and length-to-thickness ratio was identified. Based on this correlation, a minimal model was determined to be a limit for a secure design. The proposed guideline was verified by additional measurements with additional samples of random dimensions and finite element analysis.

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