Industrial 3D printer manufacturer Optomec has developed a semiconductor interconnect workaround that effectively boosts the signal of 5G antennas.
The firm’s semiconductor solution, which involves using 3D printing to integrate millimeter-wave circuits into cell signal emitters, is said to provide nearby users with an improved connection and fewer drop-outs. In fact, since adopting its approach, Optomec’s clients have reported signal boosts of up to 100% and improved device efficiency, thus it could now help meet growing global demand for high-speed 5G.
“Our customers are reporting some very impressive performance improvements for mm-wave interconnects.” said Optomec Product Manager Bryan Germann. “Customers across many industries using mm-wave frequency bands are seeing the benefits of printing interconnects in lieu of standard wire or ribbon bonds.”
Aerosol Jetted electronics
Optomec markets a portfolio of systems, software and materials related to its two distinct technologies: ‘LENS’ Directed Energy Deposition (DED) and Aerosol Jet Printing (AJP). While the former continues to find turbine Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) applications, the latter is more often used to create 2D or 3D electronics at a microscopic level of detail.
In practise, the company’s Aerosol Jetting technology works by jetting nanoparticle inks onto circuit boards and components from a distance of up to 10 mm. These droplets, each measuring between 1 and 5 microns in diameter, are then sintered together into individual layers, in a way that enables interconnects to be printed directly onto conformal surfaces, removing the need for bulky circuit substrates.
The technology’s precious metal compatibility has also made it popular among consumer and aerospace manufacturers, with Samsung using AJP to accelerate its electronics production process, and Northrop Grumman adopting it to fabricate gold semiconductor interconnects, in a project that yielded antenna parts with significantly upgraded connections.
Following on from Northrop Grumman’s research two years ago, Optomec has now optimized its newly-launched HD2 AJP 3D printer to replicate these results on a wider scale, by pre-qualifying the machine for depositing interconnects onto 5G antennas, in a way that it says makes the technology ready for “direct integration into existing packaging lines.”
MMICs and high-speed internet
Over the last two decades, the number of smart devices capable of connecting wirelessly to one another via radio frequency (RF) signals has risen exponentially. This increase in demand has necessitated the exploitation of higher frequencies like ‘mm-waves,’ which have now begun to attract significant attention as a way of meeting the capacity requirements, of the high-speed 5G networks springing up across the globe.
When it comes to constructing these high-speed arrays, the way in which millimeter-wave integrated circuits (MMICs) are embedded into them, is a key determining factor of their end-performance. However, while MMIC usage continues to grow at a rate of 27% per year, Optomec says their wider adoption “has been hampered,” due to the outdated methods often used to connect them.
Many existing ICs are joined onto circuitry using tiny gold wires, which become less effective as frequencies increase, causing users to experience low wireless range and high power consumption. To combat these issues, Optomec has unveiled its new semiconductor packaging solution, in which it Aerosol Jets connections to ICs, with such efficiency that it nearly matches the copper etching seen in circuits.
“The benefit of shorter, better impedance is matched by transitions, with lower losses for each die-to-die or die-to-board transition,” explains Germann. “This leads to improvements in overall device efficiency and performance.”
Early adopters of the company’s MMIC interconnect have reported an increase of up to 100% in transmitted signal power for each circuit connection in the millimeter range. This in turn, has also increased adopters’ wireless transmission radius, lengthened the life of their antennas and allowed them to emit signals within the 30 to 300 GHz range.
Not only is this bandwidth more than sufficient to address the needs of a typical office or home network (which operate at around 5 GHz), but its enough to cater for the next-gen mm-wave networks that operate at frequencies of up to 53 GHz, as well as those used in automotive, radar, defense and medical imaging applications, which operate at an even higher range than that.
Accelerating the roll-out of 5G
Electronic 3D printing may still be in its relative infancy, but advances in the technology are increasingly allowing researchers to produce 5G antennas with upgraded capabilities. At the University of Delaware, engineers have deployed XJet’s Carmel 1400 to 3D print novel 5G antennas capable of transmitting data 10-20 times faster than 4G or 3G alternatives.
More recently, the University of Technology Sydney and Nano Dimension have partnered to 3D print a 5G millimeter-wave antenna-in-package design, as part of a pilot project. Set up to accelerate the R&D of 5G additive manufactured electronics, the program has so far seen the creation of novel devices that could deliver enhanced bandwidth, and become competitors to normal chips.
In Britain, meanwhile, researchers have examined the potential of 3D printing Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) antennas to support the country’s roll-out of 5G communication systems. Said to be capable of providing continuous, real-time coverage without the use of ‘phase shifters,’ the proposed MIMOs could represent a low-cost and flexible means of unlocking UK-wide 5G and mm-wave applications.
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Featured image shows an illustration of Aerosol Jet Printed interconnects connected to an mm-wave component. Image via Optomec.