Aug 23, 2017 | By Benedict

Airbus Defence and Space, a division of Airbus responsible for defense and aerospace operations, has developed prototype 3D printed radio-frequency (RF) filters using metal 3D printing. RF waveguide filters are an important technology for space communications.

Metal waveguide RF filters, used to channel desired frequencies while filtering out unwanted ones, are typically used in their hundreds to allow telecommunication satellites to carry out their proper function.

And because of their complex internal structure, they can work with specific frequencies and process multiple signal beams.

But while RF filters are crucial for satellites, the production processes used to make them are far from perfect. Most metal waveguides are made by fabricating two halves and then fixing them together. This method, however, can result in performance issues caused by the seam between the two halves.

A better manufacturing process for these filters, one that can accurately produce the complex internal channels without the need for multiple parts or assembly, is metal 3D printing. The only thing is, not many people have attempted to use 3D printing for RF filters yet, which means 3D printing them remains somewhat experimental.

That’s why Airbus Defence and Space has embarked upon an extensive additive manufacturing project to develop a new range of RF filters, building on previous European Space Agency (ESA) research to create devices with increased performance, a lower cost, and a smaller overall mass.

“This new technology brings to the table both new design freedom and constraints which differ significantly from the traditional paradigm,” said ESA microwave engineer César Miquel España.

The original ESA project, carried out in 2015, was supported by ESA’s Basic Technology Research Programme, but Airbus’ project takes the R&D for 3D printed RF filters even further. By using a 3D Systems 3D printer, Airbus was able to try multiple iterations before settling on the ideal model.

“The main benefits of a monolithic design enabled by 3D printing are mass, cost, and time,” commented Airbus Defence and Space RF engineer Paul Booth. “The weight is reduced because there is no longer the requirement to have fasteners.”

Better still, Airbus has already shown the spaceworthiness of the 3D printed RF filters by subjecting them to rigorous testing. After testing, the direct metal printing technique was shown to be adequate for producing such parts.

“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,” Booth added. “The cost/time benefit comes from the reduction in assembly and post-processing.”

Perhaps surprisingly, metal 3D printing even produced a better surface finish than traditional fabrication methods previously have done.

“The microscopic topology is different in the 3D printed part than in a machined part,” Booth said. “Machined surfaces have sharp peaks and troughs, while the 3D printed surface is spheroids melted together so there is less sharpness.”

Earlier this year, Aerospace successfully flew an Airbus 380 aircraft fitted with a 3D printed spoiler actuator valve block made by Liebherr-Aerospace.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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