As Joris Peels, 3DPrint.com Executive Editor and Vice President of Consulting for SmarTech Analysis, has pointed out, antennas and related components are ripe for 3D printed disruption. One firm that seems to know this is Fortify, which has just announced a partnership with Rogers Corporation (NYSE: ROG), an established engineered materials company. Together, the two businesses will work to 3D print low-loss dielectric materials for radio frequency (RF) devices and electronics.
For Fortify, it would be difficult to find a better partner than Rogers Corporation, a publicly traded company that has been in business since 1832. With revenues of about $802.6 million, as of 2020, Rogers has three business divisions: Advanced Connectivity Solutions, Elastomeric Material Solutions, and Power Electronics Solutions. Some of its dielectric materials are used for such applications as antenna systems and communications equipment.
The partners plan to combine Roger Corporation’s prominence in low-loss, high frequency materials with Fortify’s digital light processing (DLP) technology with continuous kinetic mixing (CKM) to allow customers to design and 3D print “precision substrates, Luneberg-like Gradient Refractive Index lenses, and end-use components.”
“As our world becomes increasingly connected, so does the need for faster and higher capacity wireless connections,” Trevor Polidore, New Product Development Group Leader at Rogers Corporation said. “Partnering with Fortify will allow Rogers to deliver a complete solution for the manufacturing of 3D-printed dielectric components, enabling our customers to create the next generation of wireless systems.”
In particular, the businesses highlight how 3D printing may be used to address difficulties with active antenna systems (AAS) that are being increasingly used in consumer products. AAS technologies are generally expensive and complex, forcing manufacturers to make compromises between performance and cost. By 3D printing dielectric materials, it may be possible to overcome these issues.
“The photopolymers available today are an order of magnitude more lossy than thermoplastics, yet 3D printing complex parts at scale out of thermoplastics is time consuming,” Phil Lambert, Sr. Applications Engineer at Fortify said. “With the right low-loss material systems from Rogers combined with Fortify’s printers, we can offer a solution that provides excellent feature resolution, great RF properties, and high throughput capabilities for end-use parts.
Fortify’s CKM technology makes it possible to process highly viscous resins, such as the low loss materials produced by Rogers, something that other DLP systems cannot. In turn, the companies believe it will be possible to 3D print passive lens devices for augmenting gain and directivity for RF sensing and SATCOM On-The-Move commlinks, as well as 5G AAS systems. The companies note the advantages of Fortify’s technology for 3D printing RF dialectrics as including: “lower weight, wide bandwidth, scalable manufacturing, structure design freedom, quick turnaround parts, and more.”
“With Rogers, we are positioned to commercialize the first scalable, low-loss 3D printed RF dielectric materials,” Josh Martin, CEO and Cofounder of Fortify said. “This partnership is a great example of how innovative materials and technology companies can come together and provide a differentiated value proposition to a rapidly growing market. Fortify has a scalable way of manufacturing continuously varying dielectric material, which is a game changer for the scanning beam antenna market (5G, surveillance, remote sensing, and security).”
Though not necessarily used in this partnership with Rogers, Fortify’s Fluxprint platform is unique in that it relies on a magnetic system to orient composite fibers as they are being 3D printed within a photopolymer resin. So far, one of the startup’s main focuses has been in the 3D printing of tooling with composite reinforcement, a subsegment that Joris couldn’t fully get behind when it came to Fluxprint. However, as Fortify has continued to raise millions in investments and expand its product portfolio, it seems to be growing beyond tooling as well.
The news also reveals some of the applications of Fortify’s portfolio beyond Fluxprint. Fortify’s FLUX CORE 3D printer offers CKM, but not Fluxprint, meaning that there’s no hardware for the magnetic aligning of composite fibers. This deal with Rogers demonstrates that CKM alone is a powerful technology as it opens up new applications not possible with traditional DLP or even newer continuous DLP systems.
Due to 3D printing’s ability to create complex geometries for highly specialized applications, RF parts are prime candidates for improvement with additive manufacturing (AM). I won’t pretend to fully understand the relationship between component shape and broadcast ability, but a small number of firms are already experimenting with how AM can be used to create unique antennas. In the case of the U.S. Navy, cylindrical arrays are currently being developed to provide full radar visibility around a ship. 3D printing may be useful in repairing broken antennas or in integrating antennas directly into another component.
Rogers and Fortify go into some specifics about what the technology offers for producing RF components for those who have a greater understanding of RF. For those attending the upcoming International Microwave Symposium (IMS), Fortify will be at Booth #1451 to meet with Fortify, where you can also learn more.