8 Reasons Why a 3D Printer Can Make Your Job Easier

February 13, 2014 at 10:00 AM

You’ve put all your brain power and muscle into this design.


Each specification and measurement has been plotted with precision and then double checked again. You’ve even made the proper re-adjustments.

So you send your specifications out for production.

But then your client informs you that the design needs tweaking. It won’t work unless their request is facilitated. Without delay, but maybe a bit of frustration, you adjust again and then the tooling process begins…



Here’s an alternative

A 3D printer might just be what you need.

If your work world is composed of complex processes that dictate the design and testing of product models, there’s finally a way to cut out some element of surprise.

The 3D printer has erupted as one of the hottest new technologies generating a buzz of discussion on its endless possibilities. Home-users could make toy trucks and dolls for next year’s Christmas gifts. Or even turn on their printer that’s housed in the kitchen to make “homemade” raviolis. A Chocolatier is able to use their 3D printer to craft the next batch of chocolates. A medical lab can test a prosthetic leg with nothing more than a customized design and a click of the PRINT button.

It doesn’t stop here.

Our engineer’s here at L-com have discovered that this manageably sized machine allows them to see the results of their designs within a matter of hours. It can crank out product after product in a short amount of time. They are able to try out various shapes and sizes before going to market, as they did with an L-com field termination cover that will be going to production soon (shown above).


"Our 3D printer allows us to have almost instant feedback without spending the money or time on tooling, which can cost over $2,000 and take over three months to build,” said David Frisello, Design Engineer at L-com. “It takes the guesswork out of our job. And it's like a toy."


3D printers work by adding layer upon layer of plastic (or other required material) through holes in a printer head to compose a solid three dimensional prototype from a digital model. This tool let’s engineers turn an idea or a sketch into an object that can be turned over in your hands and passed to co-workers to prove the idea works.


As if these printers aren’t already cool enough, our engineers toyed with the 3D printer to find that it can actually manufacture one solid model that turns into two movable pieces (shown at left). Since each prototype is made in a foundation of a chemical material, this one was peeled away to reveal the two “keys” that are looped together.




The Weigh In

We’ve discussed what the 3D printer can do. So how will it help you?

Here’s the list of reasons we think the 3D printer is worth its weight in gold for an engineer’s job:

1.  It provides almost instant feedback on a design, as it takes only about 2 hours or less to print a functioning prototype.

2. It saves time. The 3D printer cuts down the process of getting a product to market by eliminating steps along the way (i.e. sending out for tooling).

3. When printing your product first on a 3D printer, it eliminates guesswork. You’re able to test out a prototype’s functionality- see, feel, and even smell or taste what the final product will be like. If that’s your thing, we won’t be tasting any connectors or termination covers over here.

4. It’s precise. You can be sure that the specifications imputed into the 3D printer will come out exactly the way you directed (unless the printer malfunctions, of course). In our experience, it will provide nothing but accuracy.

5. Communication is easier since a customer or colleague can physically see how the product will turn out. Dan Desjardin, Mechanical Engineer at L-com noted that “many times it’s easier to communicate with 3D models to convey something as opposed to strictly words or 2-D drawings. It helps to overcome any language barrier and reduce confusion between both parties.”

6. Cost. The printer will pay for itself if the tooling process for your products is costly like ours. It can cost anywhere from $600 to $3,000 for one tool (depending on intricacy of the product), which would need to be remade a second time if the measurements needed adjusting. If with every product release the testing is accomplished by only using 3D prototypes until the final tool is made, then the long term effect is cost saving.

7. Efficiency. We’ve found 3D printing to be clean and non wasteful. We never encounter drips or sprays of material around the prototype or see excess material being lost. Plus, it’s easy to use. Once the product design is programmed it’s a hands free process. Hit print, walk away, and return to find your glory.

8. Customers will be pleased that you/your company are using the newest, cutting edge technology for your products and services. You’re keeping up with the times. Everyone knows a happy customer equals a successful business.


Here are a few more prototypes that our 3D printer has created (white material only):





Visit our Facebook page to see how a giant 3D printer can build a house in 24 hours!


How to Utilize an RF Splitter

February 6, 2014 at 10:00 AM


True or False: Will an RF splitter help connect more than one antenna to a single radio?


The answer is true. This question commonly comes up at our technical service department so we wanted to share the facts with you.


A Radio Frequency (RF) Splitter/Combiner is a transmission component which divides or sums power between two or more ports. Typically they are used for connecting more than one antenna to a single radio and can also be used to connect multiple radios to a single antenna using the same frequency.


Generally most RF splitter products are 2 way, 3 way, or 4 way, and can split a variety of RF signals. At L-com, we offer RF splitters for 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 3.5 GHz, 5.4 GHz, and 5.8 GHz WLAN applications. Additionally, we offer wideband 750 MHz to 2.4 GHz RF splitter/RF combiners which are ideal for DAS applications.


RF splitters have weatherproof construction and can be installed indoors or outdoors. These flexible splitters can be used with amplified systems since they will pass DC power to all ports. Remember as always, the type of RF splitter you need would vary depending on your application.


The following are some examples of an RF splitter in action:




By using a 2-way splitter in an application that requires wireless coverage on two sides of a building, a single radio can be used to feed two separate antennas covering two sides of the building.

The corner mounting bracket used in this design example is available for purchase.



7 Deadly Counterfeit Cable Sins for You to Avoid

January 30, 2014 at 10:00 AM



What scares you more than a faulty, over-rated, counterfeit cable? If you’re like us and work with cables on a daily basis, then you know the answer: nothing.  


Shockingly, unscrupulous sellers have found many ways to cut costs on cables, drawing customers in for the low price. But what they don’t tell you is that it comes at a price- sacrificing safety, performance, and network stability.


So how do you identify them? Counterfeit cables are bulk cables or cable assemblies sold under false pretenses to undercut legitimate manufacturers.  Usually this means the cable specification does not match the actual product construction. Or it could be that the seller falsely implies that a cable meets a particular performance standard or flammability rating such as Category 5E or CMP/Plenum.  If you get a low bid for your next cable quote, check these factors to make sure you are getting what you are paying for:

1. Substituting steel or aluminum for pure copper: copper-clad-steel (CCS) or copper-clad-aluminum (CCA) are classic methods of saving on costly copper needed to make cables. Over the length of the cable, however, the signal integrity will drop below the noise and cross-talk levels. There's a good reason the EIA/TIA has not approved CCS or CCA cable for use in high-speed networks…

2. Deceiving Connector construction: This is a two-part deception. For "RJ-45" (8p x 8c) connectors, rejected molded plastic bodies can be re-ground back to pellets, added to new plastic, and then made in new bodies, which can lower the combustion rating for the overall connector. A good tip: check the connector body for foggy or yellowing plastic. Aside from the body, the metal contacts are first coated with nickel then with gold to ensure a good connection. Manufacturers have been skipping the nickel and skimping on the gold, sometimes called gold flash or selective plating. Contacts made this way will eventually corrode and fail to connect when mated.

3. Cable Jacket Material: For those applications that require CMP or CMR flammability rating, the requirement is critical. If it is specified that the cable meets CMP or CMR ratings (per the NEC code) and you get an unusually low bid, ask for proof of the jacket material. A legitimate business will offer a signed Certificate of Conformance (CoC) for the product they sell.

4. Selective Electrical Performance Testing: Some manufacturers will claim their cable or cable assemblies were "Fluke tested", but won't clarify that they only ran the channel test, not the full patch testing. Patch testing is difficult to pass and more expensive, but legitimate manufacturers will do it because it ensures the cable conforms to standards and is worth what they are charging.

5. Misleading Cable Markings: All cables sold in the United States will use a UL "E-file Number" or the manufacturer's name and model number that you can look up on UL's database. The problem is that the marking may conform to UL's standard, but the cable may not. Again, a signed CoC will protect against counterfeits so make sure you get one!

6. Wire Gauge Changes: Often 25 or 26 AWG cables can be mislabeled as 24 AWG. If you require 24 AWG, you should always request a sample cable, cut it open, strip the insulation off of the wires and measure them. Don't trust a manufacturer that claims something they aren't selling; if they are untruthful about the wire gage, what else could they be hiding?

7. The Golden Sample: While it is a good idea to get a sample up front, many manufacturers will make a "golden sample" to be perfect for what you need, sometimes at great expense. When it comes time to manufacture the rest, they scrimp and cheat all they can to deliver under cost. You should always set up a system whereby you QC some of the cables in each shipment-and without the manufacturer's prior knowledge.
This problem is much more common than you think!
L-com found counterfeit cables from both big and small manufacturers, and from both domestic and oversea sources. “Made in the USA” means nothing if the cable is made with poor components in order to offer a cheaper price. If price is your priority, someone can always make a cheaper cable. It doesn’t matter where a cable is made, but how the cable is made.
The key is to know that your seller or manufacturer (like us!) is checking cable assemblies, insisting on proving UL compliance, testing their cables, and always meeting standards. At L-com our Ethernet cables are made in our own factory versus in a sub-contractor’s, guaranteeing superior quality every time. 

The ISM Band Frequency Dilemma: Which One is Right for You?

January 23, 2014 at 10:00 AM


The FCC allocates different frequencies for different purposes, and each has its own advantages. In the US, 900, 2400 and 5000 MHz frequency bands are set aside by the FCC for unlicensed Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) applications. The lack of licensing requirements has greatly encouraged the growth of the wireless industry. These bands are used for consumer and commercial WiFi and WLAN applications as well as for commercial Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) applications. Here are some highlights of each ISM band frequency for you to consider:

900 MHz

900 MHz 9 dBi Yagi Antenna

The 900 MHz ISM band is known to be very narrow, thus limiting the maximum data rates. Typically applications such as SCADA and RFID use the 900 MHz ISM band since their data rate requirements are lower than applications found in the 2.4-5 GHz frequency bands. Many times the type of data packets being sent in these types of applications is a simple on /off command to something like a motor or value.


When obstructions such as trees and leaves are in the Line of Sight (LOS), the 900 MHz frequency will fare better than 2.4 GHz. The 2.4 GHz frequency is absorbed by water found in trees and leaves, which then causes path loss of the 2.4 GHz transmission. 900 MHz is often used in Non-Line-Of-Sight (NLOS) applications.



2.4 GHz

WiFi Grid Antenna

For the home user and commercial businesses, 2.4 GHz ISM Band is the primary band used for WiFi, Bluetooth, cordless phone, printer, keyboard, mouse and gaming controller applications. Voice, video and data communications are also typically used in 2.4 GHz systems where higher data rates are required (up to 300 Mbps for 802.11n applications).


2.4 GHz is the most widely used frequency (especially since it includes devices like microwave ovens, baby monitors, cordless phones etc.) and in some cases may even be overcrowded. When too much overcrowding occurs, your WiFi network signal may be weak or not work at all. In some cases it's best to use 5 GHz backhaul links to connect 2.4 GHz WiFi networks as 5 GHz is a less crowded frequency.



5 GHz

5.8 GHz Sectorized Antenna Array with four 90°  Sectorial Antennas

The 5 GHz frequency is often used in commercial WiFi applications. As mentioned above, it is often used as a backhaul link connecting two 2.4 GHz systems over some distance. 5 GHz is also the frequency used for the emerging standard 802.11ac which will provide up to 1.3 Gbps of wireless data throughput. Additionally, 802.11n can also use the 5 GHz frequency.





For more information about US Frequency Allocations, click here.


Wireless Tech Tips You Can't Live Without

January 23, 2014 at 8:36 AM


Here at the Engineering Hub, we strive to bring you topical and useful free technical support reference materials. For over 30 years L-com has built an extensive knowledge base of wireless tips and other valuable information to help you successfully design and implement wireless networks.


 Yagi antenna mounted


We have recently added several new wireless tech tips to our website. Many are based on questions we get from our customers. Here are a few:



Make sure to bookmark L-com's Technical Resources page as we are adding new content frequently. Some of our top downloaded wireless technical resource documents and tips are:


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