3D printers have found themselves used in a variety of different applications. Whether they’re being used in medicine to help develop human organs through to heavy industries where they’re being used to create large parts, 3D printing is something that’s here to stay when it comes to the most useful of projects. However, recent developments have shown that it’s possible to create a prototype UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) using printed parts.
About the Aircraft
UAVs are regularly used in military surveillance projects, where reconnaissance information gained by humans would pose a serious or even grave threat to a soldier’s livelihood. This is solved by using drone aircraft, which do not require pilots and can be equipped with various surveillance technologies to gain the insight that’s required for further action. They’re especially useful because they’re seen as disposable. They’re not all that expensive for a military to use and in the advent of using 3D printers to create the necessary parts for a successful flight, they’ve become that much cheaper.
The polymer-based aircraft can be deployed in as little as 24 hours. It is roughly 1.5 meters wide and is built using nine parts, which are snapped together at joints; much like the way a child’s building block set is used. It weighs in at less than three pounds and researchers are currently evaluating whether or not it would be worth using nylon as a printing material. This would make the aircraft about 60% stronger without adding any weight.
Difficulties Using Support Materials
When this design was first conceived, it required quite a few support materials around the components to prevent the frame from warping while it was being snapped together. Unfortunately, this adds a direct material cost and considerably increases the time it takes to print a UAV. However, researchers are currently looking at fused deposition modelling or FDM as a way to alleviate this concern.
This new printing technique means it will be possible to create the necessary supports without the complicated, costly tooling that’s required in traditional assembly. This technique was already used for the successful test flight and is seeing further improvements; including an electric fan propulsion system that will help stabilize the craft while it’s flying.
Researchers are also looking into developing a global positioning system and a camera technology, which can be controlled by an operator wearing first person view goggles from a safer remote location. This is expected to ensure safe flights of the UAV wherever possible; especially during military operations, where UAVs are subject to enemy fire and destruction. In the event that a UAV is seized by enemy officials, then the inboard positioning system would help a military recover its drone once it has been successfully located. Of course, this is largely dependent on whether or not the positioning system is still in tact after a seizure, but the technology is expected to be quite hardy and capable of survival situations; as in the UAV itself.