3D printing electronic smartphone antennas

Today’s smartphones have several antennas crammed into them, and the phones are getting thinner and lighter while also packing more functionality. For the phones to get more compact, the processors and RAM and everything else in them, including antennas, have to all shrink. For antennas, one of the paths to increased efficiency is 3D printing them with Optomec’s Aerosol Jet Printed Electronics technology.

Optomec’s Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS) was briefly covered in a metal printing article, but their electronics printing is quite different. Watching the video, it may appear to be similar to inkjet, but there are major differences. The conductive source material is first atomized with a gas, the gas is then mostly removed, and the material is finally pushed through a nozzle with a “gas sheath” around it to both focus the material stream and keep it from contacting the inside of the nozzle. The method prevents the nozzle from clogging and produces a tight, accurate stream of material with 1 to 5 micron droplets. The system is so precise that it can create designs with feature sizes of 10 microns and layers as thin as 100 nanometers. Various materials can be applied on the same object to increase functionality.

It may seem a 2D process, but it works on non-planar surfaces too. So far the technology has been able to produce antennas for LTE, NFC, GPS, WLAN, Bluetooth, and more. Because the process is dynamic, it can create whatever shapes are necessary for the constantly changing phone models without retooling, which is a huge money/time saver. Considering the precision and customization of Optomec’s AJPE, I suspect it won’t be long before multiple antennas are printed on top of each other, saving even more space.

Source: 3D Printing Event