US Navy Learning 3D Printed Antennas for New Radar Functions –

As Executive Editor Joris Peels recently pointed out, antennas are one of the killer apps that 3D printing is perfect for. With the ability to create unique geometries that allow for more powerful yet smaller devices, 3D printing is already being explored for such an application, but more often privately than publicly. Now the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has announced the development of 3D-printed antennas and arrays to improve radar technology and new marine applications.

NRL electrical engineer Anna Stumme recognized the speed and material advantages of 3D printing and said: “With 3D printing, rapid prototypes can be produced and several design iterations can be carried out very quickly and with minimal costs. The low weight of the printed parts also allows us to use the technology for new applications where the heavy weight of the solid metal parts restrict us. “

Anna Stumme, US Naval Research Laboratory electrical engineer, makes adjustments to an array in the anechoic chamber of the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC, September 5, 2019. Stumme creates and tests prototype parts developed using traditional and 3D printed methods. (Photo by U.S. Navy Photo by Jonathan Steffen)

Prototyping is another application that looks great in the design of new antennas as the NRL team can quickly iterate through different versions before finalizing a schematic.

“We’re not trying to say that we have to 3D print everything and put it on a ship because that’s not realistic,” said Stumme. “We don’t necessarily know how things would hold up in this environment. For us, this is a way to test more design iterations in a short amount of time. “

Prototyping is obviously a use that the 3D printing industry has known about since the technology developed in the 1980s. However, the NRL team goes a step further than shape and fit. After 3D printing designs with nylon, an antenna can be electroplated with metal to examine the surface roughness of the device.

“Surface roughness is important for waveguides and antennas as it can cause leakage and result in a less efficient antenna,” said Nick Charipar, Head of Applied Materials and Systems. “Antennas radiate and receive waves. So when a wave is traveling along a rough surface, it is distorted and the energy may not go where you want it to go. “

Manufactured pillar element parts of cylindrical arrays used to test additive manufacturing viability to manufacture cylindrical arrays at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC, September 5, 2019. From left to right: Metal 3D printing, Stereolithography (SLA) printing, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) nylon printing with electroplating and SLA printing with electroplating. (Photo by U.S. Navy Photo by Jonathan Steffen)

Charipar’s team in the Material Science & Technology department of the NRL is also studying the relationship between the material of the prototype parts and the functionality of the radar. If it is possible to determine the correct parameters for 3D printing certain components, then integrated 3D printing can potentially be used as a replacement for spare parts.

One potential benefit that the NRL sees in 3D printing is the ability to quickly replace defective antenna parts. This includes a cylindrical arrangement that enables 360-degree visibility. Another application can be the manufacture of unique antennas for environments where weight and size are an issue, such as unmanned aerial vehicles or small ships.

Two arrays await testing in the compact area at the US Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC, September 5, 2019. The two white pieces are styrofoam supports – between the styrofoam is an array made using traditional processing methods (cylindrical array made of metal) . . At the top is a 3D printed sector array. A similar setup should be tested before the end of 2020 to compare the performance of traditionally made parts with 3D printed parts. (Photo by U.S. Navy Photo by Jonathan Steffen)

This year, Stumme and her team want to test new cylindrical array openings for an X-band surveillance radar in the laboratory. The device is supposed to examine the location directly around a ship. It may be possible to incorporate cylindrical arrays directly into the masts of smaller ships using microwave photonics and optical fibers.

“Cylindrical arrays are beneficial because they provide full 360-degree visibility,” said Mark Dorsey, antenna director in the radar analysis division of the radar division and project leader. “Optical fibers are valuable because they can allow long distances between the antenna itself and the processing site.”

Optical fibers make it possible to minimize the number of parts within a ship’s mast, thus reducing heat and weight restrictions. Mute will test 3D-printed versions of the array against traditional arrays. Field tests are planned for this year.

As mentioned above, this is just an example of a public project testing 3D printing of antennas. We also know that Lite-On Mobile uses Aerosol Jet technology to 3D print antennas directly onto consumer electronics devices. When Voxel8 focused on electronic 3D printing, Voxel8 worked with MITER Corporation to also 3D print new antenna designs. Joris discusses a number of other use cases in his post, and this author is somewhat convinced that the CIA, through In-Q-Tel, has something to do with Voxel8’s technology as well.

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