Synergies in Additive Manufacturing and Drone Technology

Opportunity for Additive Manufacturing in Drone Technology

Chinmay Saraf

Technical Writer, AM Chronicle
Chinmay Saraf is a scientific writer living in Indore, India. His academic background is in mechanical engineering, and he has substantial experience in fused deposition-based additive manufacturing. Chinmay possesses an M.Tech. in computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing and is enthusiastic about 3D printing, product development, material science, and sustainability. He also has a deep interest in “Frugal Designs” to improve the present technical systems.

In the recent era, several modern technologies have been added that are likely to have a transformative impact on humanity in the coming years. The list includes artificial intelligence, drone technology, additive manufacturing, Industry 4.0, Web 3.0, self-driving cars. All these technologies interrelate to develop unique and innovative solutions for various industries.

This article discusses the synergy between two disruptive technologies – additive manufacturing and drones, highlighting the interaction between the two technologies and discusses recent industry trends.

Additive Manufacturing and Drone Technology 

Additive manufacturing is the process of building a part through a layer-by-layer approach. Compared with the subtractive manufacturing methods in which material is removed to develop the finished part, the part is produced by adding material in additive manufacturing. These materials can be used for application in aerospace, automobile, biotechnology, space, and supply chain. 

Drones are also known as unmanned aerial vehicles that can be controlled from a different location without the physical presence of any human being on the vehicle. The drone functions with the integration of software, mechanical and electronic parts.The main parts of the drone are the electronic speed controller, motors, frame, power distribution board, propellers, antenna, and flight controller.

Opportunity for Additive Manufacturing in Drone Technology
Typical drone components (image source: https://oscarliang.com/quadcopter-hardware-overview/)

The critical design parameters are flight control, aerodynamic stability, and low weight. The primary purpose of the flight control unit is to ensure that all the parts work in integration. It is regarded as a small brain of the drone.Today, drones can be integrated with various accessories that enable its application in multiple industries. 

Today Indian Drone companies such as Paras Defense and Space Technologies, Ideaforge  and Raphe develop drones mainly for defense application and use additive manufacturing technology for prototype, development and end use drone components utilising technologies such as Material Extrusion, Multijet Fusion, Laser Powder Bed Fusion and others. Similarly companies such as Zen Technologies limited, develop the drones for logistics application, they also use AM technology widely for their production and research use. Similarly, companies such as Rattan India Enterprises Pvt Ltd also use AM to develop their high technology drones. 

In addition to this, companies like Zomato are developing drone technology for food delivery. It is likely that they are actively using additive manufacturing technology for drone development. Moreover, some other companies such as Throttle Aerospace, Garuda Aerospace, General Aeronautics, Redwing Labs and Arnav Unmanned Systems also actively use AM technologies for research and development. 

Role of additive manufacturing in drone technology

Additive manufacturing is considered a technology that plays a significant role in the design and development process of drones. It mainly plays a critical role in prototype development and new innovation in drones.

In addition, additive manufacturing is also used to develop metal parts that are not possible with conventional manufacturing methods. Certain drone companies require low-cost customized details for drone development and design, and their needs are fulfilled with FDM-based 3D printers. Moreover, some drone companies rely entirely on additive manufacturing to produce drone bodies and propellers.

In addition to this, with the help of composite 3D printing, complex-shaped composite parts can be designed and developed. The main advantage of composite-based 3D printing is that the parts developed are of high strength compared to polymer parts.

Propeller is considered one of the most critical components of the drone, which can be manufactured using the additive manufacturing process. Small changes in the propeller design can be efficiently tested with additive manufacturing.

A drone frame requires several small parts such as nuts, bolts, bush, bands that can be manufactured with the help of additive manufacturing technologies and also promise for weight reduction in the drone. 

The following table summarizes the role of additive manufacturing in drone technology

Requirement in Drone Technology  How does additive manufacturing help? 
Drone Metal Parts Complex shaped metal parts can be manufactured at a low cost with metal AM
Low-cost customized parts Based upon design need, low-cost customized parts can be developed with technologies like FDM
Full-scale production Some drone companies rely entirely on additive manufacturing solutions for the full-scale production of mechanical parts 
Prototyping Testing and development of new drones are easily performed by additive manufacturing 
Composite Parts High strength composite parts can be developed using additive manfuacturing 
Propeller Design New propeller designs can be tested and propellers manufactured by additive manufacturing 
Small parts design and development Small parts needed to develop the drone can be designed and developed with the AM.

 New Technologies

Additive manufacturing technology is growing rapidly and this growth can serve the ever-growing requirements of drone companies. Moreover, it can also make drones more responsive, effective, smart and safe. 

Technologies such as multi-material printing can develop the same part with various materials improving the functionality of parts such as drone frames. Besides these, smart materials, 4D printing and integrated electronics can also be added with drone technology with the help of additive manufacturing. A multifunctional structure is defined as a structure that can perform a wide range of functions on a single platform. With additive manufacturing, it is possible to develop multi-function structures for drones which will help to reduce weight.

In addition to this for military applications, additive manufacturing can help provide on-site on-demand services for drones. This will help to improve the responsive factor of the military supply chain. In addition to these technologies, such as generative design, may help integrate artificial intelligence and develop low weight and high-performance frames. Additionally, with the help of soft material additive manufacturing, the landing gears can be designed and generated, which helps to reduce the impact on the structure during landing.

The following table summarizes the new AM technologies that can be used to develop the drones

Technology  Feature  Use of Drones
Multi-material printing Printing with more than one material  Frame Development 
Smart materials Integrating electronics and 4D printing into drones Frame Development, cost reduction and safety 
Multifunctional structures Development of structures that can perform more than one function Frame Development 
Printing on-site on-demand Printing parts with any delay in supply chain Supply Chain Capabilities 
Generative Design Integrating AI in drone part development for low cost and high-performance frames Weight reduction 
Soft Material Printing Soft materials for improved performance of landing gears and higher impact strength in drones. Landing gear design and improvement in impact strength 

Challenges

The key challenges of using additive manufacturing in drone technology are limited printing space available, which further limits the shape and size of the drone frame. The other limitation is that the evaluation of mechanical performance of the additive manufactured materials is unreliable, resulting in issues during the operations. The other limitation is the defects that occur in the additive manufacturing parts, such as the porosity and warps that may limit the performance of the finished part developed. 

Reference:  

G.D. Goh et al., Additive manufacturing in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs): Challenges and potential, Aerosp. Sci. Technol. (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ast.2016.12.019

 

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Chinmay Saraf

Technical Writer, AM Chronicle
Chinmay Saraf is a scientific writer living in Indore, India. His academic background is in mechanical engineering, and he has substantial experience in fused deposition-based additive manufacturing. Chinmay possesses an M.Tech. in computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing and is enthusiastic about 3D printing, product development, material science, and sustainability. He also has a deep interest in “Frugal Designs” to improve the present technical systems.