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3D printed UAV
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3D printed UAV
The horizons of 3D printing have been further broadened thanks to research by engineers at the University of Sheffield.
The university is already home to many pioneering innovations in additive manufacturing - including using the manufacturing technique to produce low-cost titanium components and the recently-announced high-speed polymer sintering for high-volume production project FACTUM - with this latest study pushing the frontiers of 3D printing even further.
Engineers at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) at Sheffield have successfully produced a 1.5 m-wide prototype unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as part of research into 3D printing complex geometries.
The UAV has been 3D printed using polymer materials and, according to the engineers, could be the beginning of a scheme for producing cheap and potentially disposable aircraft that can be built and deployed in remote situations for reconnaissance within as small a timeframe as 24 hours.
The aircraft built by researchers comprises of nine thermoplastic parts that can be snapped into place. It is extremely lightweight at less than 2 kg and engineers are currently evaluating the potential of using nylon as a 3D printing material that would make the UAV 60 per cent stronger and just as light.
Early versions of the UAV needed significant amounts of support material around the parts to maintain the integrity of the design during the building process. Support materials, however, add a direct material cost and increase build time. New 3D printing technologies such as fused deposition modeling (FDM), however, could soon be used in the creation of products without the need for complex an expensive tooling and extensive post-production. FDM was used to make the UAV in Sheffield, with one 3D-printed glider having already successfully completed a test flight.
Researchers are developing an electric ducted fan propulsion system to be incorporated into the airframe's central spine, while the engineers also plan to develop the UAV for guidance by GPS or camera technology, to be controlled by an operator wearing first person-view goggle.
Project leader Dr Garth Nicholson added: "Following successful flight testing, we are working to incorporate blended winglets and twin ducted fan propulsion. We are also investigating full on-board data logging of flight parameters, autonomous operation by GPS, and control by surface morphing technology. Concepts for novel ducted fan designs are also being investigated."