3D-printing has once again aced a technological frontier. And this time, it isn’t just shoes, apparels or robotics. With the aid of 3D-printing, Aurora Flight Sciences and Stratasys Ltd have developed a drone, which is reportedly the fastest and most complex 3D-printed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) ever flown. With all these superlatives attributing this drone, it made a star debut at Dubai Airshow 2015.
This high-speed drone has attained the ability to be the fastest UAV ever engineered, using feather-like lightweight materials to achieve a remarkable speed of 240 km/h. All thanks to 3D-printing technology, which was extensively used to build about 80% of the drone’s design, thus making it the largest and most complex 3D-printed UAV so far.
Aurora Flight Sciences, designed this drone by making the best use of a 3D-printing process called Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), which allows efficient production of large yet lightweight objects. With their expertise in aerospace engineering and design, Aurora collaborated with Stratasys, employing their proficiency at additive manufacturing technique. The team assimilated this concept to further manufacture and assemble different 3D-printed parts, into the final product. This ‘not so small’ drone actually measures 3 m (9 ft.) across its wingspan and merely weighs 15 kg (33 lb).
As far as the main objectives for the project go, the team took up this opportunity to illustrate how 3D-printing has made the entire complex process of designing, manufacturing and jet-powering an aircraft, quick and convenient. Though if the project management is broken down into time slots, the longest print time was nine days, taken to print the center-body fuselage. The fuselage was laser sintered from 3D-printed nylon, while the exhaust duct was 3D-printed with a metal alloy to withstand the soaring temperatures inside the engine. The remaining parts including wings, nozzle, fuel tank and other miscellaneous components were manufactured from ULTEM™ (a 3D-printing material that meets the flame, smoke and toxicity benchmarks), within just a few days or few hours.
Though this prototype development took one month, due to the assembly and testing parameters, Stratasys asserted that now similar drones can be quickly reproduced in a week or two. The application of 3D-printing enables a brilliant ease of design, which minimizes the production timeline drastically. Also it adds to the cost-effectiveness of something which is on a very experimental front.
With innovation leaping so dramatically and 3D-printing optimizing resource efficiency, one can imagine a fantastical future of aviation and technology.
By: Khushboo Vyas