NTU researchers 3D print a ready-to-fly drone
The team developed a functional quadcopter 3D printed in ULTEM 9085 aerospace-grade material with embedded electronics.
Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) have developed an 3D printed a ready-to-fly drone. The design includes embedded electronics using aerospace-grade material.
The electronics were incorporated using a singular 3D process. The team chose to work with Stratasys ULTEMTM 9085, a high strength, lightweight FDM material certified for use in commercial aircrafts, for these components.
The drone was developed as a quadcopter with four rotors and was 3D printed and flown by Mr Phillip Keane, an NTU PhD candidate from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who researches at the university’s Singapore Centre for 3D Printing (SC3DP).
One of the challenges the team faced was in the incorporation of the electronics into the build process. Embedding electronics can be a challenge, as most will not survive the high temperatures of the 3D printing process. Commercial grade electronics were modified and placed within the drone at the various stages of the printing process. They survived the high temperature printing which reached over 160 degrees Celsius, compared to the usual 80 to 100 degrees. Only the motors and the propellers were mounted after the entire chassis was completed.
“One of the toughest challenges was to find electronic components that could theoretically survive the high temperature printing process — we had to add some heat-proofing modifications to the components to ensure they could last,” says Keane. “This involved adding new components to the printed circuit boards and also designing custom housings.”
The drone itself only took about 14 hours to complete but the team admits they took three pauses during the printing process to place electronics within the chassis. There were significant time constraints as many of the components could not survive in the heat for more than 20 minutes.
Keane explains that the housings which were pre-printed in ULTEM 9085 also provide a flat surface for the 3D printer to continue printing over them.
The drone is capable of supporting over 60kg of weight suspended from its structure. Keane is hoping to enhance the drone by making it more durable, lighter weight and improve flight dynamics.
“At NTU, we have world leading researchers with vast knowledge of materials and 3D printing processes whohave invented innovative techniques to overcome the limitations of existing technologies,” explains Prof Chua, the world’s most cited scientist in the field of 3D printing according to the Web of Science, a research database maintained by Thomson Reuters.
“Together with Stratasys’ engineers and their intimate knowledge of 3D printing, we were able to push the limits of today’s technology and print a drone that is incredibly durable and can withstand high heat.”
The drone is jointly developed by NTU’s Singapore Centre for 3D Printing and Stratasys Asia Pacific.