NTU prints fully operational drone with embedded electronics

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have 3D printed a ready-to-fly drone with embedded electronics using Stratasys ULTEM 9085, a high strength, lightweight aerospace-grade FDM material.

This rugged quadcopter with four rotors was designed, 3D printed and flown by Phillip Keane, phD candidate and researcher at Singapore Centre for 3D Printing (SC3DP). It is capable of supporting at least 60kg of weight suspended from its structure.

Completed under 14 hours, the printing was paused three times for the electronics to be placed within the chassis. These commercial grade electronics had been modified beforehand to ensure they would survive the high temperatures during the printing process. The motors and the propellers were mounted after the entire chassis was completed.

Phillip Keane of NTU examines his 3D printed quadcopter drone

Challenges Faced

“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,” said Phillip.

The housings, pre-printed in ULTEM 9085, provided a flat surface for the 3D printer to continue printing over them. He added: “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.”

Phillip is currently working on the next version of the drone which will feature better durability, lighter weight and improved flight dynamics.

Impacts of Disruptive Innovation

The successful printing of an incredibly durable drone that can withstand high heat demonstrates one way to overcome the limits of today’s technology – namely, by combining the efforts of researchers and industry partners.

“This is a successful example of disruptive innovation that can be achieved when researchers from academia work with industry partners.” says Professor Chua Chee Kai, Executive Director of SC3DP and the world’s most cited scientist in the field of 3D printing according to the Web of Science, a research database maintained by Thomson Reuters.

He adds: “At NTU, we have world leading researchers with vast knowledge of materials and 3D printing processes who have invented innovative techniques to overcome the limitations of existing technologies.” Together with Stratasys’ engineers and their knowledge of 3D printing, Professor Chua aims to continue pushing the boundaries of current limits.

Fred Fischer, Applications and Products Director of Stratasys Asia Pacific, has this to say: “We look forward to researching, developing and unveiling more possibilities with 3D printing and materials as we work with industry partners and academia.”

The Ginkgo Press Team

The Ginkgo Press Team covers any news related to 3D Printing, which includes interviews, events and technology.

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