Polymer plane idea takes off
Engineers at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) at the University of Sheffield in the UK printed a 1.5m-wide prototype aeroplane.
The engineers said the polymer craft could form the basis of cheap and potentially disposable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that could be built and deployed in remote situations within 24 hours.
Earlier versions required significant amounts of support material around component parts to prevent the airframe structures from deforming during the build process.
Using support material adds a direct material cost, and significantly increases build time, in some cases by an order of magnitude.
This is a result of the machine having to change between build and support structure heads after each printed layer.
New 3D printing techniques, such as the fused deposition modelling (FDM) used to make the UAV at Sheffield, could soon be used in the creation of products without the need for complex and expensive tooling, and the time required in traditional manufacturing.
The UAV has already completed a test f light as a glider. Researchers are developing an electric ducted fan propulsion system that will be incorporated into the airframe's central spine.
They plan to develop the craft for guidance by GPS or camera technology, controlled by an operator wearing first person-view goggles.
Dr Garth Nicholson who led the project said: “Following successful f light testing, we are working to incorporate blended winglets and twin ducted fan propulsion.
“We are also investigating full on-board data logging of f light parameters, autonomous operation by GPS, and control by surface morphing technology. Concepts for novel ducted