The world’s largest, fastest and most complex 3D printed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to date has been unveiled at Dubai Airshow this week.
Developed by 3D-printing specialist Stratasys in cooperation with aerospace firm Aurora Flight Sciences, the drone can achieve speeds of more than 240km/h. Despite having a 3m wingspan, it weighs only 15kg, thanks to the use of advanced lightweight materials.
About 80 per cent of the drone’s components have been manufactured using Stratasys’s 3D printing technique, which, according to the engineers, enabled the team to design and build the UAV in half the time usually required for similar projects.
“A primary goal for us was to show the aerospace industry just how quickly you can go from designing to building to flying a 3D printed jet-powered aircraft,” said Dan Campbell, aerospace research engineer at Aurora Flight Sciences. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest, fastest, and most complex 3D printed UAV ever produced.”
The engineers said that using the 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, technique, enabled them to create a mission-specific vehicle without the usual cost constraints of low volume production.
“This is a perfect demonstration of the unique capabilities that additive manufacturing can bring to aerospace,” said Scott Sevcik, business development manager at Stratasys. “This meant using different 3D printing materials and technologies together on one aircraft to maximize the benefits of additive manufacturing and 3D print both lightweight and capable structural components.”
Most of the drone is made of a thermoplastic material known as ULTEM. The fuel tank is made of nylon and has been manufactured using the laser sintering technique.
The engineers hope the technology will attract aerospace companies as it allows cutting cost of production by eliminating waste. In 3D printing, only the exact amount of material needed is used. The ability to create systems that are extremely lightweight would allow companies to cut cost of operations by reducing the amount of fuel the vehicles require.
“Whether by air, water or on land, lightweight vehicles use less fuel,” said Sevcik. “This enables companies to lower operational costs, as well as reduce environmental impact.”