Engineers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) and Stratasys Asia Pacific have built a 3D printed drone with embedded electronics using aerospace-grade material.
The quadcopter was designed, 3D printed and flown by Phillip Keane, an NTU PhD candidate who researches at the university’s Singapore Center for 3D Printing (SC3DP).
The electronics were created using Stratasys’ ULTEMTM 9085, a high strength, lightweight Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) material certified for use in commercial aircrafts.
3D printing involves objects being created digitally layer by layer until completion. However, embedding electronics can be a challenge, as most will not survive the high temperatures of the 3D printing process.
Commercial grade electronics were therefore 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.
The drone was completed in under 14 hours. During the printing, there were just three pauses for the electronics to be placed within the chassis.
“The housings which were pre-printed in ULTEM 9085 also provide a flat surface for the 3D printer to continue printing over them. I also had to deal with tight time constraints as some of the components could not survive in the heat for more than 20 minutes,” Keane said.
In addition to being extremely rugged, the drone is capable of supporting over 60 kg of weight suspended from its structure. Moving forward, Keane said he is working on the next version of the drone which will feature better durability, lighter weight and improved flight dynamics.
Professor Chua Chee Kai, Executive Director of NTU’s SC3DP said that this is a successful example of disruptive innovation that can be achieved when researchers from academia work with industry partners.
“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,” explained 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.”
Image credits: NTU Singapore