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Interoperable, ultra-low profile, high-gain satcom on the move

Advantage Antenna

Documenting developments in the history of our ground-breaking mobile satcom solution

28 January 2022

Taking our antenna apart – and putting it back together again

this is surely every engineer’s idea of heaven – taking a piece of kit apart and putting it back together again. And if it’s a piece of disruptive technology, so much the better.

In early November 2021, that was the good fortune for a large and highly engaged team of new product introduction (NPI) specialists at Plexus Corp., with which mobile satcom phased array antenna design house Hanwha Phasor entered a formal partnership in August 2021. Plexus specialises in the design and development, introduction, manufacturing and aftermarket service of disruptive, complex products.

Back to bare boards

Under the watchful Plexus gaze, Hanwha Phasor’s Lead New Product Introduction Engineer Mark Radford and Principal Mechanical Engineer Gordon Riach stripped the world’s first commercially viable active electronically-steered array (AESA) for satellite communication on the move back to its bare [printed circuit] boards – and put it back together again. Quality Assurance Manager Chris Messaritis attended to familiarise himself with Plexus’ approach to traceability and quality control.

The scene of a two-day design-for-manufacture workshop was Plexus’ engineering, prototyping and early production facility in Livingston, Scotland, kickstarting the industrialisation of the first release of Hanwha Phasor’s leading flat panel array known as the M6 – a six-module configuration of the scaleable design. Plexus will review materials, build sequence and tooling.

“This was the first opportunity for us to let Plexus touch and feel the hardware and get a sense of the complexity of putting it together,” said Radford, a veteran of Hanwha Phasor’s start-up days.

Assembly 1

1Kitting up The kit of parts needed to build one module of the six-module M6 active electronically-scanned array – the key to its scalability and interoperability.

We’ve tinkered enough in the lab. Now we’re putting ourselves out there
Assembly 2

2Assembling a module An array of interconnected elements make up the basic system building block of the lowest profile flat panel antenna in the world: a core module measuring just 25 mm deep (the fully integrated antenna is only 7 cms). L-R: David Bray, Gav Dickson, Mark Crook, Martin Nelson – all Plexus. Front: Mark Radford – Hanwha Phasor

Assembly 3

3Simple tools Module front and back, with edge control and column edge units. Just three torque screwdrivers are needed to assemble a module – but can we do it with one?

Assembly 4

4Ready for integration Laying out our modules with edge columns ready to integrate the full antenna.
Hanwha Phasor’s Gordon Riach discusses inter-PCB alignment with DfX production engineer, Mark Crook

Assembly 5

5And now for the chassis Fixing antenna modules into the antenna chassis. Hanwha Phasor’s Mark Radford: “Cabling not pretty but that’s the point of the exercise: to call it and fix it in design for manufacture.”

Assembly 6

6Attaching the interconnects As Radford puts another antenna module in the chassis, Riach ponders the task of attaching the interconnects to the edge control and column edge units – and checks he has hair left after watching Radford assemble his beloved chassis.

Assembly 7

7Forming the seal Riach forms the environmental seal.

Assembly 8

8Fitting the radome

The workshop really marked that very necessary transition from development to final specification and definition
Assembly 9

9Rebuild complete Radford: We have an extended team in Plexus, just as engaged in designing and making this product as we are at Record Hall.L-R: Martin Nelson, Staff Mechanical Engineer – P, Ishwarya Kanagaraj, Digital Engineer – P, Gordon Riach, Principal Mechanical Engineering – HP, Kathy Bales – Staff Quality Engineer – P, David Bray – Staff Analog Engineer – P, Sarb Calgotra – Senior Manager Engineering Solutions – P, Andy Marshall – Functional / Project Manager – P, Chris Messaritis – Quality Assurance Manager – HP, Mark Radford, Lead New Product Introduction Engineer – HPHP – Hanwha Phasor, P – Plexus

An end to fettling

He continues: “We’ve tinkered enough in the lab [a state-of-the-art prototyping facility in central London]. Now we’re putting ourselves out there”

He explains: “This is a prototype assembled by design engineers. When some things didn’t quite line up and a few features were added over time, we always just said: ‘fine – just grab the drill. I will make it fit’. Now, with Plexus, we can look at materials and processes that weren’t viable at the low-volume development stage, while continuing to innovate. The aim is to make thousands.”

Ready for volume production

Riach agrees. He admits to doing his share of engineering refinement and observes: “At a certain point, you need to stop the cycle. The workshop really marked the very necessary transition from development to final specification and definition.

“Part of that process involves absorbing feedback from the Plexus team on Day Two of the workshop so that we can improve the design for manufacture. The goal is a product that is fit for production and ready for market – and leveraging Plexus’ experience in delivering product at volume.”

We have an extended team in Plexus, just as engaged in designing and making this product as we are at Record Hall

A true partnership

Riach has introduced new products before but highlights the essential nature of the relationship between Hanwha Phasor and Plexus. “This is not a ‘do-not-deviate build-to-print’ relationship.”

He explains: “It’s because of the new and innovative nature of the product. I was in the space sector before, with very stringent certification requirements so NPI was very regimented in terms of what you could and could not do. We don’t have those constraints at this stage.”

Next steps

Soon, the Plexus team will make a return visit to Hanwha Phasor’s prototyping facility in central London to observe our test processes, ready to replicate and extend test solutions that are capable of addressing volume production in its Livingston plant.

Until then, they are spending the next month living with the M6 mobile satcom antenna, plus a few PCBs, modules, and CAD data, after which they will firm up the design-for-manufacture review and present proposals to improve reliability and reduce the cost of producing it – without diminishing its core interoperability.

Radford’s review of the event is wholly positive: “We know that we have an extended team at Plexus, just as engaged in designing and making this product as we are at Record Hall [our London headquarters].

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