nScrypt announced that its research arm, Sciperio, working with the Sensors Directorate of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), has used its Factory in a Tool 3D manufacturing system to print a phased antenna array on a curved surface. Sciperio, which developed the world’s first fully printed phased array antenna for the U.S. Air Force in 2016, has continued work to conform 3D printed antennas to complex surfaces, for advanced communication technology.
A phased array antenna is an array of antenna elements whose radiating pattern can be changed without physically moving the antennas. This is done by individually controlling the phase of each element’s signal. With this, the antenna can “aim” the signal at a particular spot rather than radiating it in all directions. By analogy, it is like communication with a laser pointer rather than a lightbulb. This is critical for military communications because it enables secure communications that are sent only to where and who you intend.
According to Dr. Bae-Ian Wu, Technical Advisor of the Multiband Multifunction Radio Frequency Sensing Branch, Sensors Directorate - AFRL, nScrypt’s 3D manufacturing system and Sciperio’s engineering expertise have enabled them to model complex, multi-layer RF electrical structures for printing on doubly curved surfaces, extend and debug modelling and simulation, address interconnects, and tie digital workflow and manufacturing.
Ken Church, CEO of nScrypt and Sciperio, said that printing complex electronics is always challenging. Doing so on a curved surface extends that challenge. The nScrypt and Sciperio teams have been printing electronics for more than 20 years and their recent prints of complex electrically functional curved structures demonstrate the power of 3D manufacturing for 3D printed electronics. High value functional electronics demand precision, material performance and multiple material options, and multiple manufacturing processes, all performing in three dimensions, which is their sweet spot.
The enabler for this project, nScrypt’s Factory in a Tool (FiT) 3D manufacturing system, integrates a high-precision motion platform, surface mapping, multi-camera machine vision, and multiple tool heads for material extrusion (aka FDM or FFF), microdispensing, aerosol jetting, milling and polishing, and picking and placing electronic components. Combining all these processes and capabilities into a single platform enables the manufacture of complex structural electronics at the press of a button.
The subcontractor on this project was the University of South Florida, which was part of the project that developed the world’s first fully 3D printed phased array antenna, and supported the design, simulation, and testing of the antennas for the current project.