3D printing is everywhere these days, from DIY parts, toys, prosthetics, and even cars. So why not drones? That’s exactly 3D printing solutions company Stratasys and Aurora Flight Sciences thought when they banded together to 3D print a UAV. But it’s no ordinary 3D printed UAV. The two lay claim to the record of having made the largest, most complex, and fastest flying 3D printed drone in the industry, with a wing span of 3 m and top speeds of 150 mph. And apparently, it’s just as fast to build and design.
3D printing UAVs is probably nothing new but turning it into something close to a commercial product is probably something few have tried to attempt. It’s good for hobbies and fun, but nothing for some serious drone power. Now the two companies are proving them wrong. Well, at least to some extent.
The Aurora Flight UAV is actually only 80 percent 3D printed, because the additive manufacturing technology can only do as much for now. Still, they were able to use 3D printing for parts you probably thought couldn’t be 3D printed, like the fuel tank or an exhaust nozzle. Of course, these were printed using different materials, laser sintered nylon and metal, respectively. The ability to print completely enclosed hollow structures is testament to Stratasys’ Fused Deposition Modeling technique or FDM.
Aside from bragging rights, the two are pushing for a revolution in the UAV making industry. Even though only 80 percent, utilizing 3D printing to create the drone was already noted to have cut design and build time by as much as 50 percent. 3D printing is normally substantially cheaper than traditional production methods, allowing for faster iterations and changes to design. And since the final product is also lighter than conventional drones of the same dimensions, less fuel is needed to keep it flying and makes it more eco-friendly overall as well.