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.
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®.
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.
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