AMS Spring 2023

Optisys Brings Antenna 3D Printing to Korean Defense Market via Deal with LIG Nex1

6K SmarTech

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3D printed antenna firm Optisys has signed a deal with Korean aerospace manufacturer and defense company LIG Nex1 to incorporate Optisys technology into groundbreaking radio frequency (RF) systems for the defense and aerospace fields.

Optisys revealed the deal was signed at the Defense Expo Korea 2022 in Seoul last September and will allow the specialist RF solution provider to help design, develop and manufacture advanced metal 3D printed antenna systems and assist LIG Nex1 in digital manufacturing technology developments.

According to the memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreement signed by the two companies, the plan is to promote mutual cooperation in the design and development of metal 3D printing antennas and establish a cooperative system in the field of digital manufacturing technology linked to metal 3D printing manufacturing techniques.

Commenting on the deal, Optisys CEO Janos Opera had this to say: “Additively manufactured antenna systems drastically reduce SWaP [size, weight, and power] while reducing part count and simplifying the supply chain, all of which are critical factors in reducing total system level costs while improving reliability in the defense and aerospace industries. With Optisys technology and LIG’s excellence in producing advanced systems, we expect to create novel systems that reach new levels of efficiency and excellence.”

The Optisys design for a 3D printed RF antenna for NRAO. Image courtesy of Optisys.

Since 2014, LIG Nex1 has relied on metal 3D printing technology for the defense industry. The company is known for promoting the development of mass production processes for high-strength and lightweight components used in radars, satellites, and robots by leveraging AM. It also plans to establish a 3D printing quality management system for defense industry parts that apply the defense quality management process and realizes yield increase, period reduction, and cost reduction in the manufacturing process in the future.

Additionally, the Korean company has participated in the 3D Printing Manufacturing Innovation Demonstration Support Project supervised by the National IT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA), an agency set up by the Korean government dedicated to supporting innovation, expansion, and creating a viable environment for businesses in the ICT industry. Its technology is being applied to mass-producing advanced weapon systems such as guided weapons, surveillance and reconnaissance, and communication equipment.

LIG Nex1 Director Chanho Kuk says metal 3D printing technology is capable of miniaturization, lightweight design, and performance maximization, all of which are requirements of the defense and aerospace fields.

“The MOU we signed with Optisys will serve as an opportunity to contribute to developing the Korean defense and aerospace sectors,” pointed out Kuk.

US 3D printed Antenna Firm Optisys outlining advantages of AM. Image courtesy of Optisys.

In the last few years, LIG Nex1 has been developing advanced weapons applications, like next-generation drone defense systems, that could change the paradigm of future warfare. Many of these surface-to-air guided weapons and related electronic warfare equipment and technologies could help prevent North Korean drones and other weapons from entering the airspace.

For example, LIG Nex1 is working to develop a Korean-style electronic countermeasure similar to Russia’s Krasukha. The local government is promoting LIG Nex1’s K-Jammer version, and once functional, it could launch jamming radio waves as a response to North Korean electronic warfare. LIG Nex1 also developed a local air defense radar that will be operated in conjunction with Korean K-jammers deployed in combat.

Currently, LIG Nex1 has around 250 experts in electronic warfare R&D and production and several dedicated facilities for testing electronic warfare systems. Thanks to its expertise and additive manufacturing capabilities, the firm is expected to play a significant role in implementing an integrated solution that effectively links high-performance equipment centered on the electronic warfare system.

Effective Air Defense System with indigenous technology against various type of aerial threats. Image courtesy of LIG Nex1.

Optisys’ own know-how in designing and manufacturing high-performance metal 3D printed antennas for aerospace and defense applications is a perfect fit for LIG Nex1 and local demands. By marrying multi-discipline optimization with the rigors of successful large-scale production, Optisys enables the manufacture of some of the most advanced additively designed components.

Recently, this leader in RF antenna solutions received an undisclosed investment from Nikon (TYO: 7731), which aims to tap Optisys capability to produce high-performance printed antennas in commercial volumes. The Utah-based startup operates a fleet of platforms by German company SLM Solutions (whose acquisition by Nikon is set to be completed in 2023). With the incorporation of SLM 500 technology at its facility, Optisys now owns a high-tech metal AM system ideal for producing high-strength metal components, such as those demanded by space and defense customers.

With the MOU as the central axis of the partnership between Optisys and LIG Nex1, the two companies will provide quality systems for Korea and could become a stepping stone for LIG Nex1 to leap into the global defense and aerospace markets, which are currently valued at more than $700 billion.

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