This paper presents a design methodology for mechanisms consisting of a single continuous structure, continuum mechanisms, that blends the kinematic synthesis of rigid-body mechanisms with topology optimization for compliant mechanisms. Rather than start with a generic structure that is shaped to achieve a required force deflection task for a compliant mechanism, our approach shapes the initial structure based on kinematic synthesis of a rigid body mechanism for the required movement, then the structure is shaped using Finite Element Analysis to achieve the required force deflection relationship. The result of this approach is a continuum mechanism with the same workpiece movement as the rigid link mechanism when actuated. An example illustrates the design process to obtain an eight-bar linkage that guides its workpiece in straight-line rectilinear movement. We show that the resulting continuum mechanism provides the desired rectilinear movement. A 210 mm physical model machined from Nylon-6 is shown to achieve 21.5mm rectilinear movement with no perceived deviation from a straight-line.

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