Researchers at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have 3D-printed a ready-to-fly drone with embedded electronics and aerospace-grade material.
The drone was jointly developed by NTU’s Singapore Centre for 3D Printing (SC3DP) and Stratasys Asia Pacific, a subsidiary of Stratasys Ltd., a 3D-printing and additive manufacturing solutions company.
The electronics were incorporated in the drone during the 3D-printing process, which employed Stratasys’ ULTEMTM 9085 – a high-strength, lightweight, fused deposition modeling material certified for use in commercial aircraft.
The quadcopter was designed, 3D-printed and flown by Phillip Keane, an NTU PhD candidate from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who researches at SC3DP.
In 3D printing, objects are created digitally layer-by-layer until completion. However, embedding electronics can be a challenge, as most will not survive the high temperatures of the printing process, explains the university.
Therefore, commercial-grade electronics were modified and placed within the drone at the various stages of the printing process. They survived a temperature of 160 degrees C, compared to the usual 80 to 100 degrees C. Only the motors and propellers were mounted after the entire chassis was completed.
“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,” says Keane. “This involved adding new components to the printed circuit boards and also designing custom housings.”
According to the university, the drone was completed in under 14 hours. During the printing, there were just three pauses in order for the electronics to be placed within the chassis.
NTU Singapore says the rugged aircraft is capable of supporting more than 60 kg of weight suspended from its structure. Moving forward, Keane says he is working on the next version of the drone, which will feature better durability, a lighter weight and improved flight dynamics.
ULTEM 9085 is a production-grade thermoplastic that can be 3D-printed. It features a high strength-to-weight ratio and flame, smoke and toxicity rating – making it ideal for the commercial transportation industry, especially aerospace.