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3D printing and rugged single-board computers

Additive manufacturing, and more specifically metal additive manufacturing (or metal 3D printing), is changing the manufacturing industry by lifting some of the design constraints inherent to traditional processes. Many industries are benefitting from this technology including the defense electronics world, where lattice structures have been applied to single-board computer (SBCs) assemblies to reduce weight while maintain performance and ruggedization requirements.

The process creates parts layer-by-layer as opposed to removing material by computer numerically controlled (CNC) operations. Metal additive manufacturing is used in the production of critical aerospace components such as rocket engines or commercial , offering a clear advantage in terms of weight reduction. Aluminum and titanium, among other metals, can be printed with high accuracy and repeatability into complex shapes, as seen on Figure 1.

Figure 1 courtesy of TEN TECH LLC

A VITA 48.2 conduction-cooled SBC main components –a circuit card with its connectors and components – are sandwiched between a primary and secondary cover. The covers, made of machined aluminum, provide a mechanical interface to the chassis via wedge-lock systems, flexural stiffness to avoid components vibration fatigue failure, and heat sink functions to lower the components operating temperature. Both the primary and secondary covers, because of their massive nature, are perfect candidates for an additive manufacturing process, with the main goal being to decrease mass while maintaining comparable performance structurally and thermally.

Another key part to this process would be to leverage geodetic and lattice structures. A geodetic or lattice structure is a type of design that uses many closely spaced diagonal truss elements to provide structural integrity without the weight penalty of a massive construction.

Sir Barnes Wallis pioneered geodetic structures in…

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