This paper presents a general discretization-based approach to the large deflection problems of spatial flexible links in compliant mechanisms. Based on the principal axes decomposition of structural compliance matrices, a particular type of elements, which relate to spatial six degrees-of-freedom (DOF) serial mechanisms with passive elastic joints, is developed to characterize the force-deflection behavior of the discretized small segments. Hence, the large deflection problems of spatial flexible rods can be transformed to the determination of static equilibrium configurations of their equivalent hyper-redundant mechanisms. The main advantage of the proposed method comes from the use of robot kinematics/statics, rather than structural mechanics. Thus, a closed-form solution to the system overall stiffness can be derived straightforwardly for efficient gradient-based searching algorithms. Two kinds of typical equilibrium problems are intensively discussed and the correctness has been verified by means of physical experiments. In addition, a 2DOF planar compliant parallel manipulator is provided as a case study to demonstrate the potential applications.

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