High Precision 3D Printing and Metal Plating for Passive Multi-Beam Antennas

Passive multi-beam antennas have potential in 5G and 6G wireless communication applications. The complex lens structure of these antennas presents manufacturing challenges as they require very tight tolerances. Fabricating these antennas with traditional manufacturing techniques is often complex and time-consuming, requiring the use of expensive equipment. Professor Yi Wang at the University of Birmingham was looking for a new way to manufacture passive multi-beam antennas.

Antenna Design

The antenna contains a surface-wave Luneberg lens and an array of nine feeding waveguides. Each waveguide contains waveguide grooves, fabricated with the lens through 3D printing and a CNC machined cover. 3D printing the waveguides allows for increase design freedom as the height of the nails can vary without increasing manufacturing complexity.

Using Projection Micro Sterolithography (PµSL) technology, on a microArch S140 the lens and feeding waveguides were co-printed. The high precision 3D printed antenna is 14mm x 14mm x 1.6mm with tolerances of +/- 5µm. The printed device was then gold coated to provide the necessary electrical conductivity. Metal plating 3D printed parts is a cost-effective way to produce parts for applications that require metal surfaces and/or electrical conductivity.

3D printed multi-beam antenna
Metal plated 3D printed multi-beam antenna

After measuring the radiation patterns from different ports and the reflection coefficients, Wang and his team saw that they had successfully demonstrated a 355 GHz surface-wave metallic Luneberg lens multi-beam antenna.

“The across-scale capability of the high-precision 3D printer, with µm-scale precision and cm-scale build volume, gives us a powerful tool to manufacture highly complex millimeter-wave and sub-terahertz waveguide devices in an innovative way that is not possible with other milling or micromachining techniques.”

– Professor Yi Wang, University of Birmingham

The Future

The experimental results of the 3D printed lens and feeding waveguides demonstrates the feasibility producing the sub-terahertz metallic multi-beam antenna with high-precision 3D printing. 3D printing multi-beam antennas offers significant advantages over traditional manufacturing techniques in terms of flexibility, speed, and cost-effectiveness.

To learn more, read the full research paper here.

For more information about the microArch S140 and PµSL technology, contact BMF.