Antennas are electronic components that rely on precise mechanical engineering for performance. As communications and other electronic systems grow in complexity, so too do the antennas required to transmit and receive their waveforms. But through the use of additive manufacturing (AM) and three-dimensional (3D) metal printing, even advanced antenna arrays can be reduced in size and complexity. By redesigning a Ka-band 4 × 4 monopulse array and producing it with a 3D printer, what had been a complex component with 100 different parts was reduced to a smaller, single-piece antenna with the same performance capabilities.
The reduction of size and number of parts wasn’t the only benefit gained by 3D printing the antenna array. Conventional methods of manufacturing antennas such as this monopulse array can take eight months of development time on average, plus three to six more of build time. By using 3D printing for this monopulse array test case, it was possible to reduce the lead time to two months. In addition, production costs were reduced by 20 to 25% and nonrecurring-engineering (NRE) costs reduced by 75%. The savings in the weight of the monpulse array amounted to an almost unbelievable 95%.