Oct 9, 2017 | By Benedict

Two Indian research labs have developed new 3D printed antennae. One, developed at the Indian Space Research Organisation, has been sent to space; the other, made at the National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology, can be worn by soldiers on their military uniforms.

New 3D printed antennae could be embedded into military uniforms

It’s a testament to the versatility of radio technology that two Indian research institutes have each just developed new 3D printed antennae—and for two very different purposes.

At the National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology in Thiruvananthapuram, scientists are going on the defensive. No, they haven’t been accused of anything; they’re just developing new technologies for national defense.

One of these technologies is a 3D printed antenna—lightweight, flexible, and water-repellent—that can be embedded into textiles. This means the small piece of kit can actually be implemented into military uniforms.

“Our goal is to make wearable antennae which can be embedded in the jacket worn by soldiers in remote locations,” commented Dr. P. Mohanan of the Cochin University of Science and Technology, one of the researchers involved in the study.

To achieve their goal, Mohanan and the other researchers at the Institute used a conductive silver ink to 3D print a bottom electrode on polyester fabric, as well as the E-shaped antenna itself. By hot-pressing three layers of the textile with polyacrylate sheets, the team can ensure that the ink will not permeate the material.

The researchers say the 3D printed design is much more flexible than traditional antenna models, which are made from thin copper films on reinforced epoxy substrates.

Taking copper out of the equation could have big benefits for soldiers—as well as many other potential users of the 3D printed gadget. The most important effect is that there will be no oxidization of the fabric antenna, which means it won’t suffer in wet conditions. (Additionally, a PVC polymer coating makes the 3D printed antenna even more water-repellent.)

Measuring around 3 cm long and 4 cm wide, the 3D printed antenna is built to operate at around 3.37 GHertz, and can be embedded into textiles for WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) applications.

Outside of military use, the antenna could also be deployed in telemedicine and environmental monitoring.

“We can connect the antenna to different sensors such as temperature, pressure, and ECG sensors and the data can be transmitted to a remote server,” Mohanan said. “The antenna can sense and communicate data in a non-intrusive manner. This way we can monitor the health of soldiers.”

But the wearable 3D printed military antenna developed in Thiruvananthapuram isn’t the only example of such technology being developed in India.

At the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Bengaluru, researchers have developed their own 3D printed radio device, and have actually sent their antenna up into space.

Another 3D printed antenna is helped an Indian satellite communicate with Earth

In June this year, a 3D printed antenna—a component that picks up and sends radio waves in outer space—became the first 3D printed satellite part to be sent into orbit by ISRO. It was added to India’s GSAT 19 communication satellite after more than a year of planning.

But ISRO wasn’t alone in its endeavors. To get the complex part 3D printed, the organization partnered with Wipro3D, the additive manufacturing division of Indian software company Wipro. With its range of 3D printers (including EOS models), Wipro3D was able to fabricate the component as a single piece, reducing the need for joints and assembly which can hamper performance.

Doing so wasn’t easy though. Wipro3D actually had to modify a 3D printer to go beyond its 300 mm Z-axis limit in order to print the 320 mm part.

A wall thickness of 2 mm was also required, while the engineers also had to ensure that the 3D printed part would operate at the right frequency—something that could be affected by minor changes to the printing parameters.

After going through a few iterations of the 3D printed antenna, the ISRO researchers eventually settled on an “X-band twist” design, which changes the polarization of the radio waves.

India's GSAT-19 satellite was launched in June 2017 along with its 3D printed antenna

Of course, getting a 3D printed part approved for use in space is not easy. Before it could be validated, the antenna needed to be put through rigorous tests, including a vibration test to really try out the component’s strength.

But having ticked all the boxes in that regard, the 3D printed antenna was eventually sent to space in June, where it is now operating with “excellent performance.”

Having seen what 3D printing can do for antennae, ISRO now plans to try 3D printing various other components. Researchers say that waveguides, brackets, thrusters, main oxidizer valves, combustion chamber liners, and propellant injectors could all benefit from additive manufacturing, meaning that space could contain a lot more 3D printed parts in the coming years.

Whether they’re orbiting the Earth or simply adorning a soldier’s uniform, India’s new generation of 3D printed antennae are making a big difference in many fields. These won't be the last.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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