Apr 12, 2015

3D Printed Antenna Knowledge Base

Since I'm getting more involved with communal WiFi mash networks and open source smart city project in my town, I decided to research and make a small knowledge base on 3d printed antennas.
This post will be updated as I gather new information.

Basically, there are two main areas of 3d printed antenna development: High-tech industrial and DIY. The main difference is in type of machines and purpose. Industrial 3d printers are very diverse with applications ranging from aerospace to consumer electronics, while DIY printers use mostly FDM and are used in hobby projects, drones, HAM etc.

High-tech industrial and commercial 3D printed antennas 


Optomec Aerosol Jet Antenna 3D printing


Optomec is an industry leader and they integrate their antennas in wide variety of products.



Here is the summary from process homepage:

Mobile device antennas including LTE, NFC, GPS, Wifi, WLAN, and BT have been printed using the Aerosol Jet process and independently tested by a leading cell phone component supplier.
Measured antenna performance is comparable to other production methods. The Aerosol Jet printing process is scalable – antennas can be printed on up to 4 cases simultaneously on a single machine. Machine throughput for a typical antenna pattern measuring ~300 mm2 averages 30,000 units per week. 
The Aerosol Jet printer lower manufacturing costs for antennas used in mobile devices. The process works with standard injection molded plastics – no special additives or coatings are required. Based on Aerosol Jet technology, the digital process prints conformal antennas using conductive nanoparticle silver inks.
The printing process accurately controls the location, geometry and thickness of the deposit and produces a smooth mirror-like surface finish to insure optimum antenna performance. No plating or environmentally harmful materials are used in the process.

You can see more on Optomec homepage:
http://www.optomec.com/additive-manufacturing/printed-electronics/aerosol-jet-core-applications/printed-antennas/

3D Printing antennas on curved surfaces with nanomaterials


From the source:
“Omnidirectional printing of metallic nanoparticle inks offers an attractive alternative for meeting the demanding form factors of 3D electrically small antennas (ESAs),” stated Jennifer A. Lewis, the Hans Thurnauer Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and director of the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory at Illinois.

“To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of 3D printed antennas on curvilinear surfaces,” Lewis stated. The research findings and fabrication methods developed by Bernhard, Lewis, and their colleagues are featured in the cover article,"Illinois Calling" of the March 18 issue of Advanced Materials (“Conformal Printing of Electrically Small Antennas on Three-Dimensional Surfaces”).

Source with more details:

http://engineering.illinois.edu/news/article/2011-03-15-3d-printing-method-advances-electrically-small-antenna-design

http://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/nanotechnology/nanoparticles-enable-3d-printing-for-cell-phone-antennas

http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/lewisgroup/files/adams_advmat_2011.pdf

Here is a similar technology used at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:


Source article and more information:

https://manufacturing.llnl.gov/additive-manufacturing/designer-engineered-materials

Fractal antenna systems 


Fractal Antenna Systems is a company that has been working for some 20 years in creating specialized antennas for military and civilian sector based on fractal patterns. They recently published that they also use 3d printers to make some designs.



Company page: http://www.fractenna.com/

Here are some other works on the topic of 3d printed antennas:


Fully 3D Printed 2.4 GHz Bluetooth/Wi-Fi Antenna by Paul Deffenbaugh, Kenneth Church from The University of Texas El Paso:  

http://utminers.utep.edu/pdeffenbaugh/2_4_ghz_imaps_paul.pdf

3D PRINTED ELECTROMAGNETIC TRANSMISSION AND ELECTRONIC STRUCTURES FABRICATED ON A SINGLE PLATFORM USING ADVANCED PROCESS INTEGRATION TECHNIQUES PAUL ISAAC DEFFENBAUGH, M.S.E.E. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (doctoral dissertation)

http://emlab.utep.edu/pdfs/Deffenbaugh_PhD_Dissertation.pdf

COMPACT FORM FITTING SMALL ANTENNAS USING THREEDIMENSIONAL RAPID PROTOTYPING by Bryan Jon Willis



Origami antennas and packaging using 3D printing technologies by John Kimionis and Manos Tentzeris

http://spie.org/x113138.xml

From other media:


3D printed satellite and space based antennas


I made a more detailed post here with several projects and materiel sources: 

http://diy3dprinting.blogspot.com/2012/12/3d-printed-satellites.html

DIY 3D printed antennas

 

If you search Thingiverse you will currently find 500+ projects tagged with "antenna".


As far as I know all of them are arrays where the actual antenna is some form of non-printed metal wire held by 3d printed frame or enclosure.

DVB-T antenna deigned to hold metal wire on 3d printed frame and that can be mounted on a back of a TV screen


There are many models ranging from UHF satellite communication arrays to drone piloting antennas like this one:




You can also make supports and guides to make more complex antenna designs like this DIY clover leaf antenna guide:































All the files and instructions:

http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1082803

http://flitetest.com/articles/Cloverleaf_Antenna


So can we produce real metal antennas on DIY machines? In theory there are two project that enable you to embed wire into your plastic filament:

Slew ring wire embedding:

http://diy3dprinting.blogspot.com/2014/05/3d-printing-with-guided-slew-ring-wire.html

and Spoolhead:

http://diy3dprinting.blogspot.com/2013/09/embedding-metal-wire-in-3d-printed.html

Future will show are there any projects working with conductive filaments, but I don't know anybody currently developing antennas based on them.

Services like Shapeways can print in metal (they actualy make molds and then cast metal AFAIK) so Shapeways list 300+ products tagged with "antenna".

Link: http://www.shapeways.com/search?q=antenna

Here is an example of Shapeways made antenna:

Right Hand Polarized Antenna 5.8GHz 3D - for RG316





Let me know if you have anything related to this subject. Any feedback is welcome.