Additive Manufactured RF Products Enable Next Generation Defense and Space Missions

Additive Manufactured RF Products Enable Next Generation Defense and Space Missions

The advent of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, presents significant opportunities to develop RF technology solutions with improved performance, lower weight, fewer parts, and lower overall costs. The true benefits of this technology, however, become apparent when enabling the manufacture of devices that would otherwise be impossible or impractical to produce using traditional subtractive manufacturing methods. The strategic alliance between CAES, the leading provider of RF technologies and related mission critical electronic solutions, and SWISSto12, the leading provider of 3D printed technology for RF applications enables this revolutionary technology to become widely available to the next generation of defense and space missions.

Industry Standards &Flight Heritage

In defense and space applications, additive manufacturing with metal is the most common materialanalogous to conventionally machined RF products. Two primary obstacleshave, historically, prevented the proliferation of metal additive manufacturing in the industry. The first having been the lack of materials and process standards, and the second having been the lack of mission pedigree, especially in space. These obstacles have been addressed recently, with standards for additive manufacturing in space having been issued by both the European Coordination on Space Standardization (ECCS) and NASA. Furthermore, CAES’ strategic partner, SWISSto12, has contributed to a significant portion of flight heritage with US primes Boeing, Maxar, and Northrop Grumman flying 3D printed parts alongside Thales Alenia Space, Airbus Defense and Space, Inmarsat, and Eutelsat.

 

 

Technical Innovation

The primary technical challenge of metal additive manufacturing for RF parts has been the poor surface finish of conventionally manufactured 3D printed parts. This results in degraded RF performance versus an equivalent product manufactured using traditional subtractive manufacturing techniques. SWISSto12 has addressed this drawback through the development of a number of proprietary and patented innovations, including software improvements to the additive manufacturing process as well as chemical treatments that improve the surface finish of 3D printed products. These innovations improve the RF conductivity of these products to levels competing with the highest performing equivalent products manufactured using traditional subtractive manufacturing.

Insertion loss measured in Ka-band waveguides before and after the chemical post-processing for surface finish and conductivity improvement.Industrial Scale

Another challenge is that of industrial scale.Existing enterprises specializing in additive manufacturing of RF products often lack the scale needed to become reliable suppliers of choice to defense and space primes as well as government agencies. In 2021, CAES and SWISSto12 partnered to combine SWISSto12’s unique intellectual property with CAES’ premiere positions in engineering, developing, and manufacturing RF products for leading defense and space programs. In addition to decades-long relationships with defense and space primes, CAES brings a robust RF engineering team recently augmented by the acquisition of Colorado Engineering Inc. CAES also offers large scale manufacturing capacity in the US and is establishing a specialized RF design center and additive manufacturing facility in its Exeter, New Hampshire location.

  

Example of Ka-band multibeam ESA product for LEO constellations

Benefits of Innovative Solutions

Technology leaders are attracted by the opportunity to enhance performance through the design freedom offered by this manufacturing technology; especially the possibility of producing novel monolithic RF assemblies that reduce part count, weight, and, ultimately, cost. Depending on the design approach, a 30 to 90 percent weight reduction is possible while up to a 50 times reduction in part count in highly integrated assemblies reduces the burden of integration. These benefits yield significant cost savings to the mission.

Conclusion

While the promise of additive manufacturing presents compelling opportunities for innovation, partnering with the right team is needed forsuccess. The combined CAES and SWISSto12 team can help the next generation of defense and space missions achieve overmatchwith superior capability, cost, and speed to market.

 

 

 

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