Oct 30, 2016 | By Alec

While the 3D printing hobby has been supported by a number of high profile applications, 3D printed drones have done so much to promote the technology to a huge audience. But 3D printed drones are not without their own problems, as they are big, bulky, require a large flying zone and seem to be in a constant need for repairs. But there’s a solution. French startup Nano-Racing has been using 3D printing to create a very small line of drones that have all the functionality of professional-grade drones, and none of the drawbacks of the large 3D printed ones.

The startup itself was founded back in 2015, with a quest to democratize the growing sport of immersion drone racing. And its growing fast: it is now even being structured into an official aerial sport in Europe, the US, and in South Korea, among others, with thousands of players all around the world. As co-founder Charles Venayre revealed, they were big fans of racing drones themselves, but were put off by their closed technological setup, their bulky size (250mm drones have quite a large fly zone) and of course the huge costs involved in racing something so delicate.

Together with Christian Millot, Fabien Madore and Charles’s brother Maxime Venayre, he therefore founded Nano-Racing to provide a simple solution: 3D printed racing drones that are far less expensive to operate, easier to handle, less dangerous for onlookers and completely compatible with immersion software – something not all 3D printed drones are. “It is compatible with every type of hobbyist and professional piloting and immersion gear, which means it can be used by anyone,” the French entrepreneur says.

During development, the team strongly relied on Madore’s experience at Air France, while he was also one of the first in France to enter the drone industry. Since 2015, the group has no grown to ten employees, most of them being R&D specialists. Through the Kiss Kiss Bank Bank crowdfunding platform, they raised more than €60,000 to fund the concept, and their active mini drone racing community is growing constantly.

Right now, the startup is working hard to extend their range of products, including customization options, and tackle production challenges. “You can choose a “drone personality” using pre-set flying modes (note that each pilot has their own specific choice of settings and way of flying). Our other great particularity is that our drone is the only one in the world to be entirely assembled by interlocking: no screw, no welding. This a key advantage for customization!” Venayre says.

What’s more, 3D printing has been an integral part of Nano-Racing, and both Venayre and Madore were actively 3D printing ever since the Stratasys patents became public in 2009. “We used it for various prototypes, I used it to make architecture models,” Venayre recalls. “3D printing is an outstanding tool for prototyping and short-run production. That’s what we offered our first clients: an early bird short run of 320 products. And for us, 3D printing allowed us to do the tests, the crash tests, and adapt the product. All of this while avoiding the costs and delays that go along with injection molding: rheology tools, molds, injection, and the validations between each step.”

Things really took off with the help of 3D printing, especially for problem identification and solving. “It happened, for example, that after a crash test we realized that a zone lacked matter. So we reviewed the design to reprint the reinforced model. We also had to think about the adapting of the parts to the motors’ power,” Venayre recalls. Through 3D printing service company Sculpteo, they found the answers they needed and the 3D printing solutions that improved the prototypes through successive prototyping.

As a result, Nano-Racing is also seriously considering entering production with 3D printing. “Now that we are heading towards production in larger series, we will offer two options: a product done through injection molding, and a “hacking kit” that will make the drone more powerful, with 3D printed parts,” the French developer reveals. The drone arms will be digitally milled for additional rigidity.

While Nano-Racing is thus still a startup in every way, it does certainly act as an example on how to run a startup anno 2016. Through 3D printing and digital development, they are cost-effectively perfecting their product, while simultaneously supporting a grateful community. “Mastering 3D printing means to dare more. Daring to conceive industrial products, avoiding costly and long processes, testing the market first-hand. And it’s becoming more and more essential. In an iterative creation process like ours, you easily make two dozen prototypes. With 3D printing you can move fast, put aside the ideas that don’t work,” Venayre argues.

He therefore also strongly advises everyone with ideas to look into 3D printing, adding that educating yourself in the restrictions of 3D printing will greatly pay off in the long run. “Try out all the 3D printing techniques to understand which ones will be most effective for your project,” he advises beginning users. “Everything you need to get a hand of it is on the internet! It’s also important to get in touch with a fablab, a makers community, meet people, exchange. That’s how you learn.” And 3D printing services like Sculpteo can play a huge role in seeing what professional-grade 3D printers can add without wasting your startup funds yourself.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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