Electromagnetic Simulation for Antennas

Electromagnetic Simulation for Antennas

In this first part of a multi-part series, I will discuss many aspects of antenna design & analysis with the underlying theme of electromagnetic simulation-driven product development. In this part, I will briefly talk about performing stand-alone Antenna Design, Analysis & Optimization using Electromagnetic Simulation.

Increasing Importance of Electromagnetic Simulation (EM)

While still in university, I imagined antenna design to be very simple. Based on the given frequency, we will need to calculate dimensions and then fabricate the design. That’s it. A decade ago, I found simulation to appear like dark art or black magic. If the fabricated antenna did not work well, I needed to iterate the physical design till it gave good results.

During the recent years, several EM simulation tools have emerged to evaluate the exact solution of Maxwell Equations for estimating the electromagnetic behavior of the devices. These tools used underlying methods like Finite Element Method (FEM), Method of Moments (MoM) and Finite Difference Time Domain (FDTD). Generally, we can divide the part components of the electronic design into active and passive devices. The modelling of the active devices is based on nonlinear measurement data parameters like S-parameters and X-parameters. When we come across modelling of passive devices, they are very simple because of their linear nature. However, it is important to understand the limitations of those devices.

The main role of the simulation is for to engineers to be able to accurately predict how complex products will behave in real-world environment enabling the complete virtual prototyping. ANSYS HFSS, a state-of-the-art high-frequency electromagnetic simulation, helps to estimate the radiation characteristics of the antenna and optimize the design as per requirement.

Parameters To Be Considered For Antenna Simulation

In general, engineers know that dimension can be reduced by increasing the substrate dielectric constant. Using standardized equations, we can estimate the size of the patch. However we cannot estimate radiation characteristics among a few other quantities. Using simulation tools, we can replace physical iterations with virtual iterations; we can identify the optimal design that matches the required specifications.

Why do some engineers get different results? Is there anything else that needs to be considered? Yes, engineers who focus only on model dimensions and not on boundaries and excitation will obtain inaccurate results.

Modeling and Setup

Let me consider the example of a GPS antenna that needs to have a gain of 3.5dB. For this gain, we’ll need to identify a antenna design with the smallest possible antenna dimension.

Let’s look at three substrates RT Duriod 5880, FR4 and Alumina. Using ANSYS HFSS, you can model the full antenna by using in-built modeling options or import the design from external CAD software. Initial dimensions of the patch are calculated using standard formulas available in academic literature.

Image of 3D CAD model of a patch antenna before performing electromagnetic simulation
Antenna Model

Patch antennas can be fed power by various methods such as microstrip line or coaxial/SMA. While using coaxial input, many don’t consider the dimensions of the coaxial. A good engineer initially checks for the dimensions of the coax in order to get the characteristic impedance, which directly affects the frequency of operation and voltage standing wave ratio or VSWR.

For assignment of different materials for model, HFSS has an inbuilt material library where you can select the required material for substrate, conductors, etc. If you want to use a material which is not in the library or if you want to add some frequency-dependent properties, then you can modify or create a new material.

Image of Materials available in HFSS before performing electromagnetic simulation
HFSS Material Library
Image showing addition/modification of materials before performing electromagnetic simulation
New Material Creation

For antenna design, radiation is another important boundary in order to accurately estimate the EM emission. As a good practice, the distance of at least λ/4 or λ/8 must be maintained between the antenna and the boundary. For example, λ/4 will be a good distance for radiation boundary and λ/8 for PML boundary. This is an important aspect that many engineers fail to consider. Upon completion of the initial setup, I ran the simulation to check for its performance.

Parameterization of Antenna

After simulation, check the input electric field in coaxial and the impedance of the transmission line/coax in order to verify the expected excitation. In post-processing, do check important parameters for radiation characteristics like pattern and gain. Even the near field data, which is complex to obtain from measurement, can be estimated with simulation.

Since we are not considering any fringing field and probe effects, there will be variation of results. To further improve the design, I suggest using optimization algorithms such as Optimetrics or ANSYS optiSLang. Such tools also permit sensitivity of the design due to fabrication tolerances.

The available optimetrics options in HFSS
Optimetrics in HFSS
Image describes the effect on resonance frequency due to probe position variations while performing electromagnetic simulation
Probe position effect on resonance frequency
Optimal Design of Antenna

Finally, the best design can be selected after evaluating the gain characteristics of the all variations. For the three substrates, I evaluated the optimized dimensions of the patch using Optimetrics:

  • 12.5 x 10 cm² for Duroid
  • 9.5 x 7.5 cm² for FR4
  • 7 x 5 cm² for Alumina
Image shows the estimated gain plot for different substrate materials while performing electromagnetic simulation
Gain Variation vs Substrate

Per this, antenna with FR4 substrate meets the required gain of 3.5dB with the least possible dimension. Better performance can be obtained by varying other parameters such as height of the substrate, etc.

The next time you perform electromagnetic simulation of antenna, do remember to consider all the boundaries.

This concludes the first part of a multi-part series on antenna design & analysis. In the next part, I will discuss about antenna placement analysis.

If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or fill out the contact form.

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