Poly­mer plane idea takes off

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - 3D TECHNOLOGY -

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

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