Aug 15, 2017 | By Tess

Additive manufacturing giant 3D Systems and Airbus Defense and Space have unveiled their latest joint achievement: a validated and flight-ready 3D printed radio frequency (RF) filter for satellites. The 3D printed RF filter is the first of its kind to pass testing and be qualified for use in commercial telecommunications satellites.

Supported by the European Space Agency (ESA), the 3D printed RF filter project has been underway for some time, as 3D Systems and Airbus have been collaboratively working to establish direct metal printing (DMP) as a viable option for the aerospace sector.

As 3D Systems explains in a case study report entitled “First Air-Worthy Metal Printed RF Filter Ready for Take-Off,” metal RF filters are a crucial part of space communication systems and have been for decades.

In space, satellites can be equipped with up to 500 RF filters and waveguides, each of which are designed to block frequencies from certain channels and let certain channels pass through. 3D Systems likens the metal components to “traffic cops,” in that they control what frequencies get passed through and which don’t.

3D printing was brought into the mix in an effort to redesign and consolidate metal RF filters in order to make them more lightweight and efficient in terms of design and production times. As most space enthusiasts will already know, having lightweight parts is crucial, as it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to send even a single kilogram into orbit.

Taking this into consideration, 3D Systems opted to use the ProX DMP 320, a high-performance direct metal 3D printer with a build volume of 275 x 275 x 420 mm. The company says its technology was able to “improve functionality,” reduce production time and costs, and cut back on the weight of the component.

Importantly, 3D printing enabled Airbus Defense and Space to explore new design solutions for the RF filter, which are traditionally manufactured using milling and spark eroding. “Cavities for RF filters typically need to be machined from two halves bolted together,” said the company. “This increases weight, adds an assembly step to production time, and requires extra quality assessment.”

Using 3D printing and 3D electromagnetic simulation software tool CST MWS, however, the companies were able to optimize the design of the RF filter with complex geometries only achievable through additive manufacturing.

“The main benefits of a monolithic design enabled by 3D printing are mass, cost, and time,” explained Paul Booth, an RF engineer at Airbus Defence and Space’s Stevenage facility in the UK, where prototypes of the RF filter were tested.

“The mass is reduced because there is no longer the requirement to have fasteners. With direct metal printing there is also the no-cost bonus to have the outer profile more closely follow the inner profile, so only the really necessary metal needs to be used. The cost/time benefit comes from the reduction in assembly and post-processing.”

In the end, the 3D printed RF filter passed qualification tests, and succeeded in reducing both costs and turnaround times for production. Perhaps most impressively, the 3D printed component demonstrated a weight decrease of 50 percent compared to its non-printed component.

“The success of this project opens up the possibility of much greater integration of RF filters with mechanical and thermal components to reduce part count and overall mass,” said Booth. “We will also look at integrating more functionality such as test-couplers as part of the filter or directly integrated into waveguide runs. There is a huge potential for reducing mass while cutting production time and costs.”

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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