Even though additive manufacturing (AM), in its various forms, has been in existence for decades now, the use of AM for functional, mission-critical or safety-critical, applications are still relatively immature. This assertion is even more valid for precision instruments and systems used in electro-optical (EO) and radio-frequency (RF) applications, given that most functional AM applications across the aerospace & defense industry have been focused on lightweight structural elements, thermal management, engine components, etc. The additional requirements demanded of EO & RF components have resulted in a slower adoption of AM for these precision applications. However, the value added of AM for these areas of technology can be profound.
This presentation highlights the successful implementation of various AM techniques, primarily with AlSi10Mg via laser powder-bed fusion, in the development of high-power, multi-element RF antenna arrays as well as precision reflective optics and opto-mechanical structures for use in visible and infrared imaging systems. Assembly part consolidation, from 21-to-1 pieces, along with implementation of integrated conformal cooling features for high-power operation, was realized with the RF antenna array. Functional test data confirms the performance to be in close agreement with predicted performance metrics. The precision reflective optics that were developed made use of “Design for AM” techniques such as cellular structures and topology optimization for aggressive light-weighting, and high stiffness-to-weight, required in many optical scanning applications. The ability to impart a precision optical surface, via diamond turning, onto metal AM substrates was also well characterized in the process.
- Understand that, when implemented properly, AM can be used for functionally demanding, high-precision electro-optical and radio frequency applications.
- Recognize why the use of lightweight cellular AM design is a game changer for opto-mechanical applications.
- Explore new application areas of additive manufacturing across technology disciplines previously overlooked.