Drones are quickly becoming commonplace and it’s not only military and law enforcement who have them. Even the kid a couple of houses over has a quadrocopter lit up with LEDs he flies at night a couple of times per week, prompting me to take video and uploading it to YouTube to see how many find it a credible UFO sighting.

Alien invasion aside, all of the drones constructed today are usually made up of individually prefabricated parts slapped together, usually revolving around the engine housing. That may no longer be the case thanks to 3D printing and some ingenious engineers from the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Center.

Instead of a bunch individual manufactured parts, the engineers designed their UAV using ABS-M30 filament to fabricate the UAV’s airframe in a total of 9 pieces (including 2 elevons and wings), saving both time and money over traditional manufacturing methods. The team chose to build their drone using a Stratasys Fortis 900mc 3D printer employing the FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) method over the stereo lithography and selective laser sintering normally found in metal UAV fabrication. Normally, the FDM method would require the inclusion of ‘support’ structures to help curb deformation when printing, however the engineers were able to painstakingly refine their design to incorporate some ‘unique’ features that help to prevent that deformation while retaining its flight characteristics.


The greatest part about their UAV is that it can be made almost on-demand, taking less than 24-hours to build instead of the over 120-hours that it would normally take. The airframe (weighing in at a crushing 4.4lbs with a wingspan of almost 5ft) can be broken down into two pieces for easy transportation, which could probably fit in an oversized backpack if needed.

uav 640x404

Obviously, the engine (a wound-up rubber band and wooden propeller?) and electronics are weight restricted for its size, limiting its flight time and distance, however the team plans on building a larger version capable of a longer sustained flight time and payload capacity. Planned uses for the new UAV include reconnaissance, search and rescue as well as humanitarian aid, however delivering packages (the non-Hellfire kind) from Amazon and Google certainly aren’t out of the question.


University of Sheffield’s 3D printed ABS airframe (via University of Sheffield)


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