3D Printed Antennas

3D Printing is enabling antenna designs that were previously impossible or prohibitively expensive to fabricate. The MITRE Corporation, a not-for-profit that operates seven federally funded research and development centers (FFRDC), is at the leading edge of antenna research. In collaboration with Voxel8, the MITRE® Sensors and Electromagnetic Systems Department has been working to design, simulate, fabricate, and characterize novel wideband phased array designs with the potential for high performance and low production cost.

Performance Characterization

MITRE® has been studying the RF performance characteristics of the materials used with the Voxel8 Developer's Kit 3D printer as a function of frequency, time, and temperature. 

The electrical properties of the Developer's Kit PLA (dielectric constant and loss tangent) and Standard Silver ink (conductivity) were found to be relatively stable across frequency (DC to 18 GHz). Further details about the RF properties of the Developer's Kit materials can be found on the materials page.

To confirm the high conductivity of the Standard Silver Ink, MITRE® measured the insertion loss in a microstrip line between DC and 21 GHz, and also compared the performance of a 3D printed WiFi antenna to a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) 2.4 GHz WiFi antenna of an equivalent design. Both antennas were tested to characterize the voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR) and gain. The 3D printed antenna was found to match up well with simulation, have a lower VSWR, and higher gain compared to the COTS antenna fabricated with conventional PCB manufacturing techniques. The 3D printed antenna functions electrically throughout the thermal cycle tested (-40°C to 60°C).

Read further technical details of the 3D printed antenna evaluation performed by MITRE®.

 
A commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) 2.4 GHz WiFi antenna

A commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) 2.4 GHz WiFi antenna

3D PRINTED 2.4 GHZ WIFI ANTENNA

3D PRINTED 2.4 GHZ WIFI ANTENNA

Next Generation Antennas

Together with a government sponsor, MITRE® has invented a new class of wideband phased array antenna that has a 7:1 bandwidth ratio and scans up to 60 degrees. This new antenna design has 3D features that are ideally suited for additive manufacturing, but difficult to make with traditional manufacturing techniques. At the same time, the new antenna remains lighter, costs less, and performs better than it's original mostly metal counterpart. Voxel8 is actively working with MITRE® to make increasingly complex iterations of the new phased array design a reality.

 
Exploded view of the 2.4 GHZ 3D printed Wifi Antenna

Exploded view of the 2.4 GHZ 3D printed Wifi Antenna

MITRE® is a registered trademark of The MITRE Corporation

RightHand Labs

 

Electronic Test Fixtures for Robotic Hands

RightHand Labs makes robotic grippers that can handle everyday objects. To ensure each ReFlex Hand is functional after manufacturing they designed and fabricated an electronic test fixture using the Voxel8 Developer’s Kit. The fixture enables testing of the embedded TakkTile Sensors in each robotic finger to ensure they are functioning correctly.

As each robotic finger comes back from the manufacturer with loose wires, a reliable way of attaching them to a test circuit was required. The Voxel8 Developer’s Kit was used to quickly fabricate an electronic circuit that could mechanically and electrically connect a microcontroller board and series of wires. Once connected an LED embedded in the fixture lights up to indicate a successful test.

Voxel8’s printing technology has enabled us to rapidly build reliable electro-mechanical test fixtures for our research products
— RightHand Labs
 

1. DIGITAL DESIGN

Design the electronic test fixture with multiple materials for the conductive and insulating parts. 

2. PRINT

Send the digital design for printing and component insertion. 

3. CONNECT & TEST

Connect components to the test fixture to quickly confirm electrical function.

 

Inductive Coin

 

Printed Electronic Components

Functional, printed electronic components can be fabricated using the Voxel8 Developer’s Kit. An inductive coil, for example, enables the wireless transmission of power from a charging station to the printed component inside the part. When the 3D printed ‘coin’ is placed on the charging station, the resulting magnetic flux induces current within the printed silver coil, lighting the LED inside.

Inductive power transmission can be used as an alternative to embedded batteries and wired connectors. Similar coil geometries can be used for printed antennas that transmit and receive wireless signals.

 

Quadcopter

 

Fully Functional UAV

The Quadcopter design is a fully functional UAV made with a printed exterior body, internal wiring, and embedded components. The exterior body is printed with conventional thermoplastic. Inside a printed circuit board, motors, and LEDs are connected together with printed silver traces. The high conductivity of the Voxel8 silver ink is sufficient to handle the current drawn by the four motors. All internal components are press fit into place and enclosed within the thermoplastic body.