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Surfin’: Not Your Father’s 3-D

02/22/2013

By Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU
Contributing Editor

This week, Surfin’ considers 3-D printing as a tool for ham radio makers.

Additive Manufacturing (AM) -- also known as “3-D printing” -- is the technology that builds “3-D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material, whether the material is plastic, metal, concrete or one day...human tissue.”

According to the AM website, a computer, 3-D modeling software -- such as Computer Aided Design (CAD) -- machine equipment and layering material is common to 3-D modeling: “Once a CAD sketch is produced, the AM equipment reads in data from the CAD file and lays downs or adds successive layers of liquid, powder, sheet material or other, in a layer-upon-layer fashion to fabricate a 3-D object.”

The first ham radio application of 3-D printing that I am aware of is PrintSat, a new ham radio satellite from students at Montana State University (MSU). The satellite is being built with nano-carbon-impregnated plastic using a 3-D printer. “The PrintSat Team will design the satellite on computers,” MSU stated in a press release. “Then, instead of sending their plans to a machine shop for fabrication, they will push a button. Computers will guide lasers as they build the satellite one layer at a time.” MSU’s David Klumpar, KD7MFJ, said 3-D printing “will further lower the costs and speed the development of very small satellites, enabling future scientific missions comprised of dozens of satellites flying in formation.”

The cost of 3-D printing has dropped dramatically in the past few years. It is now an attractive option for quickly making mechanical parts including mechanisms that cannot be fabricated using traditional methods.

Although ham radio is thought of as being electronics-centric, our hobby has its share of mechanical parts. I will always remember opening the box containing my first Heathkit, an HR-10B receiver, and being impressed with all the mechanical parts contained in the box. I think there were more mechanical parts than electronic parts in that box!

3-D printing offers new possibilities for ham radio’s makers, as illustrated by the MSU PrintSat Team. The possibilities are limitless and I look forward to the new ham radio projects coming our way from 3-D printers.

Until next time, keep on surfin’!

Editor’s note: Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU, seeks the unusual in radio. To contact Stan, send e-mail or add comments to the WA1LOU blog.



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