ANYWAVES, a spin-off of the French Space Agency (CNES), is a leading force in the development of antennas for aerospace applications using additive manufacturing and ceramic materials. The company, which specializes in the design and fabrication of antennas for small satellites, has therefore found a natural partner in Limoges-based 3DCERAM, one of the pioneers of ceramic 3D printing.
Leveraging 3DCERAM’s in-depth knowledge of AM and ceramic materials, ANYWAVES has been able to bring its antenna concepts and designs to life. The company combines the benefits of technical ceramic materials—including extreme heat resistance and strengths that can withstand the harsh environment of space—with those of AM, notably design freedom and agile production volumes.
The young aerospace company recently came up with an innovative concept for ceramic antennas that optimize radiofrequency performance through ceramic (specifically, zirconia) lattice structures. 3DCERAM, which has brought to market its own SLA-based ceramic AM technology, worked closely with ANYWAVES to find the best production process for the antenna application.
Specifically, ANYWAVES worked with 3D-AIM, 3DCERAM’s consulting service that specializes in the aerospace industry. The service supports companies as they develop ceramic 3D printing applications, collaborating in the conception stage and subsequently managing the design and production phases. Eventually, 3D-AIM works with the end-user to help them implement the technology for themselves.
Step 1: Info gathering & risk analysis
In the first stage of their collaboration, 3D-AIM and ANYWAVES started by discussing the goal of the project—to optimize the radiofrequency performances of small satellite antennas—as well as project requirements, including technical specifications, timeframe and budget. The partners also laid out a production plan. According to 3DCERAM, it is very important to gather all this information from the beginning of the project, because each factor can influence the part design and the overall project process.
Following this initial evaluation, 3D-AIM conducted a risk analysis and established a de-risking plan. This involved an in-depth analysis of ANYWAVES’ CAD files (including several part configurations), taking into account the 3D printing, cleaning, debinding and sintering stages. At each level, the risk of failure was evaluated for the part design, enabling the partners to find the best course of action. Needless to say, but determining the risk of failure of a part’s design before production can save valuable time and money.
Step 2: Design for additive manufacturing
With the risk analysis complete, 3D-AIM and ANYWAVES modified the latter’s CAD file to reduce the risk of failure and to optimize the part structure, all while meeting mechanical tolerances, material quality control and other requirements.
The primary aim of the design modification in this case was to reduce the default scratches or failures which can appear in the additive process. Factors like part orientation, part price and tolerances can all play a role in minimizing these problems. For example, 3D-AIM and ANYWAVES determined that the orientation of the part would influence its precision. The vertically aligned part had a higher level of precision but was more expensive and slower to manufacture.
In the design for manufacturing phase, 3D-AIM also addressed a number of correction factors for the SLA process. For instance, it adjusted the scale factor to eliminate the risk of warping and surface quality degradation. ANYWAVES’ CAD file was also optimized for the ceramic AM process in small ways, like blending the radius on the sharp edge and correcting the maximal shape factor between two connected sections.
Ultimately, 3D-AIM combined its own knowledge of the ceramic AM process with ANYWAVES’ antenna design expertise to come up with a final design that was optimized both for the AM process and the antenna’s final performance. Final design variations were printed and sintered for evaluation before ANYWAVES was prepared to move into final production.
Step 3: Antenna production
By this stage in the collaboration, 3D-AIM ensured that ANYWAVES’ ceramic lattice antenna was ready for production using 3DCERAM’s additive manufacturing technology. As part of its final consultation services, the group presented the French aerospace startup with two options for moving into industrial production: to invest in a ceramic 3D printer to produce the antennas in house or to order the parts through 3DCERAM.
The first option, which is given to all 3D-AIM partners, is facilitated by the aerospace consulting service, as it offers support and training for a technology transfer. The second option—to order parts from 3DCERAM—is well suited for end users requiring small series of parts or components for R&D projects. In ANYWAVES’ case, the startup has moved into production alongside 3DCERAM, taking advantage of the latter’s deep knowledge of ceramics and DfAM.
ANYWAVES’ state-of-the-art small satellite antennas are creating new opportunities for space applications, including telecommunications, navigation, earth observation, atmospheric input and more. By using the winning combination of 3D printing and ceramic materials, the company is paving the way to higher performance, more geometrically diverse antennas.
This article was published in collaboration with 3DCERAM.