by Melissa Donovan
The aerospace industry is well informed on three-dimensional (3D) printing. It is one of the leading users of additive manufacturing (AM) and perhaps one of the earliest adopters. Expedited finished parts, cost-effective low production quantities, and the ability to produce lighter weight pieces that still offer durability were and still are some of the reasons why it boasts one of the highest rates of 3D printing utilization.
Optisys, LLC, based out of Salt Lake City, UT, is a turnkey antenna supplier—from design to final testing—providing the space and aerospace markets with defense and commercial applications. Its products have been used in a number of satellite, deep space probe, and lander missions.
“We can integrate all of the aspects of an antenna, including structural and thermal to create low size, weight, and power solutions and we are allowing inaugural applications of radio frequency (RF) in new markets,” explains Adam Arnold, VP, Optisys.
Established in 2015, the company’s four original founders worked at traditional antenna producers and collectively realized there was a gap in the antenna market, which could be filled using specially designed and manufactured products via metal AM. As such, the company began with one machine in a small office.
“Traditional RF products are large, heavy, and cumbersome to make and assemble. This was an ideal market to utilize metal AM to disrupt. Our main capability is the design and development of highly integrated RF geometry, we just use metal AM to realize these designs,” says Arnold.
Today, Optisys operates out of a 30,000 square foot location that houses five 3D printing machines. It also has a presence in South Korea and the U.K, with plans to build these locations out in order to design and supply the regions at a more local level.
SLM In House
It works with 3D printer manufacturers like EOS and SLM Solutions. From SLM Solutions it employs a SLM 500 selective laser melting device. The system is ideal for producing high-strength metal parts, like antennas for space missions. These components must be able to withstand a range of harsh conditions from low Earth orbit to deep space probes.
Using the SLM 500, Optisys produces several individual components in one build process, making for an efficient manufacture that is not possible with conventional technologies. According to the company’s website, some new components can be designed, produced, and delivered in as little as 16 weeks.
When it comes to preferred filament, aluminum is utilized because of its light weight, excellent electrical conductivity, and strength and thermal capabilities. Of course, if a specific project necessitates a different kind of material, that is always an option. The company is able to print in titanium, stainless steel, hardened tool steel, and cobalt chrome as well.
Fully embracing automation, various software solutions from Ansys, Inc. and Dassault Systemes’ Solidworks are used for design and thermal, structural, and RF optimization.
Between its five 3D printers, around 100 antennas are produced a month—and there is no standard size. Arnold says they range from being small enough to fit in your hand to large arrays in excess of two meters squared, which consist of multiple pieces.
Thanks to 3D
Optisys continues to closely follow technological advancements. “We utilize any advancement that can reduce costs, speed up printing, or improve quality,” says Arnold.
Nov2021, Industrial Print Magazine