Nov 30, 2016 | By Julia

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore have teamed up with additive manufacturing giant Stratasys to 3D print a fly-ready drone using aerospace-grade material. Not just any drone, this achievement stands as the first fully operational quadrocopter to be 3D printed in ULTEM™9085 — a high strength, lightweight FDM material certified for use in commercial aircrafts — all in a single production step.

Designed and 3D printed by Philip Keane, an NTU PhD candidate from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the drone can support over 60 kg of suspended weight, and features embedded electronics capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures. The project was jointly developed by NTU’s Singapore Centre for 3D Printing (SC3DP) and Stratasys Asia Pacific, a subsidiary of the leading 3D printing and additive manufacturing solutions company Stratasys Ltd.

NTU researcher Philip Keane pictured with the 3D printed drone

The quadrocopter is particularly notable for its unique electronic components. Normally embedded electronics present a challenge for 3D printers, as most electronics cannot withstand the high temperatures of the printing process, which reach over 160 degrees Celsius. For this reason, commercial grade electronics were specially modified and embedded in the drone at key stages throughout the printing process.
"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. This involved adding new components to the printed circuit boards and also designing custom housings," Keane said.
The entire process proved to be meticulous but successful. Printing the drone took under 14 hours, including three pauses for placing the electronics within the chassis. “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 explained. Motors and propellers were mounted after the entire chassis was completed.

The decision to 3D print using ULTEM 9085 was also significant, since the production-grade thermoplastic is known for its high strength-to-weight ratio and FST (flame, smoke and toxicity) rating, and therefore well suited to the aerospace industry. Additionally, “the housings which were pre-printed in ULTEM 9085 also provide a flat surface for the 3D printer to continue printing over them.”

Professor Chua Chee Kai, Executive Director of NTU’s SC3DP, noted that the drone represents a triumphant example of the innovation possible when academic researchers work with industry partners. “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.”

Stratasys Asia Pacific’s Fred Fischer, Director of Applications and Products, commented, “this project exemplifies the power of Stratasys’ flagship Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printing technology and perfectly demonstrates the strength of the ULTEM resin. We look forward to researching, developing and unveiling more possibilities with 3D printing and materials as we work with industry partners and academia.”

Both partners are eagerly pushing forward. Keane reports that he is already working on the next version of the drone, which will feature better durability, lighter weight and improved flight dynamics.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Tarun Kumar wrote at 12/18/2016 8:17:17 AM:

i am interested to know about examples of some heavy engineering applications like planetary gearbox for lifting ladle of molten steel weighing, say 150 to 450t

Jagannadha Avasarala, MD wrote at 12/13/2016 2:26:06 AM:

Who knows how to develop a 3D model on a computer off of an MRI of brain ? Tumors, and other brain lesions can be printed in 3D but can one generate a 3D picture or structure from an MRI of brain (normal) and then we can talk about abnormal stuff ?

MyPrintsDon'tLie wrote at 12/1/2016 7:44:09 AM:

As far as I know Markforged did that long time ago...

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