A team from the University of Sheffield in the UK has successfully flown a UAV (aka drone) which was built entirely using a 3D printer. The aircraft, built in the college’s Advanced Materials Research Centre, is made up of just nine parts, many of which snap together without needing fixings.
The simplified design of the drone means it can currently be built in less than 24 hours, using ABS plastic on a Fortus 900 fused deposition modeling printer.
The trick in keeping the manufacturing time down was in using a new kind of design which minimized the need for the printer to do additional work on support elements of the craft, mostly because the design team made sure to create an aircraft which was very 3D printer friendly from the beginning.
As you can see from the test flight video below, the UAV manages to fly extremely well under radio control, and even has an on-board camera for added effect. The drone has a wingspan of 1.5 metres and weighs under 2 kg.
Now imagine the future when they can roll one of these off the printer every 10 minutes and you’ll see why this sort of thing has implications far beyond a short test flight on a blustery Yorkshire moor.