Soaring the Skies with 3D Printing

Presenting a 3D printed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) designed, manufactured and flight tested by a team of engineers from Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). The UAV airframe is constructed entirely of ABS plastic, using Stratasys’ Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Technology.

UAVs are extremely flexible machines and are often used in aerial surveys, photography and observation. However, most of the designs are costly and time-consuming to produce. In March early this year, engineers in The University of Sheffield AMRC Design & Prototyping Group designed and prototyped a small unmanned aircraft using advanced design tools and addictive manufacturing technology.

The team printing all the airframe parts with a Stratasys Fortus 900mc FDM 3D printer. To save material cost and building time, the engineers designed each part of the structure to be printed without any need for support material. The completed aircraft has a wingspan of 1.5metres, is under 2kg, and can be easily split into half for easier transportation.

Ready for assembling

Taking another step forward, the team has developed a way to incorporate electric-powered, ducted fan engines. To create this newest version of the UAV, the team used 3D printing to manufacture carbon fibre parts and produce jigs, fixes and moulds, as well as components of the UAV’s airframe.

UAV_before launch

The add-ons have increased the glider to a 3.5kg UAV. Due to this, a catapult launch was necessary — this was too printed by 3D printers. The concept featured an automatic release mechanism that locks the UAV onto the carriage, allowing the motors to run at full power before launch.

UAV_on catapult

Dr. Garth Nicholson, Senior Design Engineer commented: “The project was a success on all levels from team building, experience gained in structural and systems design, design manufacture through to testing and validation of CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics).”

“The aircraft was developed using both an incremental design philosophy, as well as trialing experimental manufacturing techniques in carbon fibre production.”

Not planning to stop there, the team’s next challenge will be to replace the electric ducted fans with miniature gas turbine engines and is seeking to double the UAV’s wingspan.

Check out this video to know of development and test of AMRC’s powered UAV prototype:

Source: ARMC paper