Oct 31, 2017 | By David

As exciting as 3D printing technology itself is, it’s also exciting to see it enabling progress in other technological fields. Antenna design, a relatively unheralded but crucial field that has contributed to the incredible development of communication technologies over the last few decades, is the latest to benefit from 3D printing. A group of researchers at Ohio State University’s ElectroScience Laboratory (ESL) will be using the technology to produce what are known as "hovering" millimeter-wave antenna arrays, which have the extra signal strength required to meet the increasing demand for high-speed communication and data transfer.

As our society becomes more and more connected, with an ever-increasing proliferation of mobile devices and wireless networks, the spectrum of electromagnetic frequencies that allows all this to happen is getting crowded. Antenna design is turning towards millimeter waves, with frequencies of 30-300 GHz, as the lower frequencies are under such strain that they might not be able to keep providing continuous bandwidth for much longer.

"Nowadays, we use cellphones for all sorts of wireless communication for voice and video transmission," said project leader Nima Ghalichechian, assistant professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering at ESL. "There is a need and a growth every year. Every year we need a lot more [signal strength] to send and receive more data than the previous year... We are trying to go about 50 times higher frequency to get us 50 times higher bandwidth...So, the idea is to create devices that transmit and receive data at these very high frequencies."

Ghalichechian’s team are developing new millimeter-wave antenna arrays using a hybrid fabrication process. Their method combines 3D printing technology and MEMS (micro-electrical mechanical systems). A common limitation in antenna design is the silicon substrates that antenna arrays have to be mounted on, which tend to weaken the wireless signal. These new arrays are made to ‘‘hover’’ in the air, which decreases the need for support and the consequent negative effects to the signal.

According to Ghalichechian, we can "Think of it like a diaphragm supported by small posts, but it’s mostly floating. The idea is to physically isolate the antenna from the lossy substrate. Suspend it in air... The central objective is to develop scanning arrays on silicon integrated circuits that exhibit radiation efficiency of greater than 85 percent. Such compact high-efficiency millimeter-wave arrays have not been realized to date."

3D printing will come in handy for making the lens components attatched to the antennas. Graduate research assistants Jiantong Li and Kyoung Ho Jeong are experimenting with the technology to produce particular lensing structures that will sufficiently focus and thus amplify the signal that is generated by the antenna array.

Ghalichechian and his team of students received recently a three-year $300,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant award to further develop their miniaturized "hovering" antennas. When finished, this project should have a huge range of potential applications in a variety of different sectors. It will enable improved short-range communication links, satellite communications, radars, remote sensing, security, and medical imaging.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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