WASHINGTON D.C. – Naval radio frequency (RF) engineers from Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) participated in two high-visibility events showcasing additive manufacturing capabilities for Navy leadership and the public; a Department of Defense-sponsored Print-a-Thon March 15 at the Pentagon, and the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition held April 3 to 5 in National Harbor, Maryland.
Patrick A. Groves and Jessica L. Watson, both engineers at SSC Pacific, presented prototype 3D models of antennas at both events, giving attendees an opportunity to handle the models and ask questions about their compatibility to commercially available RF antennas.
“What we have here is our additive manufacturing capability and we focus on antenna systems and RF front-end technology and how we are able to rapidly produce these systems and field them to the fleet faster,” said Watson while representing her team at Sea-Air-Space.
The team displayed various models including what seems to grab most people’s attention when they walk by, a miniature 3-D model of the Millennium Falcon.
“We call it the future platform because we’re always looking to the future and how we’re going to increase our capabilities for the evolving fleet. This is more like an attention getter. It draws people to the booth and it shows that we’re not going to stop at our current capability,” said Watson.
Once someone stops by the booth to check out the 3-D printed models, Groves and Watson share their expertise and explain the process and benefits of additive manufacturing.
“This is an example of one of the RF antennas that we developed for a platform. We used the additive manufacturing process to rapidly prototype this antenna by 3-D printing the antenna,” Watson said. “Using this process allowed us to go from concept to platform installation in less than 24 months. This antenna took six weeks to fabricate and only three weeks to 3-D print. Copper plating the 3-D printed part allowed us to test and optimize the design of the antenna before it was fabricated. The antenna alone is about $50,000 and we were able to produce it for about $10,000,” she said of the largest antenna in their array of antenna models on display.
Additive manufacturing takes raw or compound materials and builds parts from the material using a 3-D printer. One of the 3-D printing methods used in additive manufacturing is known as fused deposition modeling where the engineer designs the parts on a computer using special software and prints them layer by layer or jetting drops of curable resin onto a build tray. The process could prove valuable to the fleet by reducing system casualty repair costs and timelines.
“Once people learn about our capabilities they get excited about the possibilities. When we show them that a current antenna costs $3,500 to make and then show them the 3-D printed version for a cost of $350, they want to know more about the availability of this technology,” said Watson.
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific provides full-service command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) fleet engineering capabilities to support the Navy and Marine Corps. The highly skilled experts that work as part of the integrated product teams perform installation design and production, fleet engineering services and management of deployed systems, programs, performance reporting and integrated logistics support and training.