Dec.18, 2013

Georgia based company Area-I teams up with Solid Concepts in the building of Area-I' 737 scale model unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) PTERA using Selective Laser Sintered (SLS) 3D Printed components. PTERA stands for Prototype Technology Evaluation Research Aircraft, and its purpose is to provide a low-cost testing platform for new control and monitoring technologies. The 3D Printed components for PTERA include fuel tank, ailerons, control surfaces and flaps.

SLS 3D Printing works via a bed of powdered nylon and a CO2 laser which sinters the nylon in consecutive layers until a final product is achieved. Originally, Area-I hand-built the ailerons for PTERA; however, "before we had Solid Concepts build the ailerons out of SLS it took us 24 working days," says CEO of Area-I Nick Alley.

"When we grew the ailerons with SLS, they were designed, built and assembled on PTERA within three days. SLS is easy to work with, installs quickly, is efficient and, from an aesthetic standpoint, produces parts that are gorgeous."

Up-close view of the Selective Laser Sintered (SLS) aileron after it has been professionally finished.

The control surfaces incorporated all hinges and mounting structures into the initial build, eliminating costly and time-consuming post-processing as well as eliminating the extra weight of bulky additives for attaching features via traditional methods.

PTERA wing with 3D Printed control surfaces.

"Additive manufacturing has completely changed the way we design aircraft," says Alley. "We used to shy away from certain complex designs, opting for structures that are more basic. With additive manufacturing, we can now create even the most complicated designs. It has completely opened up design capabilities that we would not be able to make with any other manufacturing method."

PTERA's fuel tank also benefitted from SLS, with anti-slosh baffles designed and built directly into the inside of the tank which significantly aided in the balance and flight length of PTERA. Normally fuel tanks are built out of steel or other metals, but Area-I was able to 3D Print PTERA's tank with SLS and coat the inside of the tank with a special sealant resulting in a much faster turnaround and far lighter fuel tank.

"With the latest build technologies available, we're now able to get parts for our aircraft faster than ever before," says Alley. "This allows us to stay in the design process longer, which means we end up with better designs in the long run."

Watch below the flight of PTERA and interview with the engineers at Area-I:

Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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