Researchers 3D print working drone with embedded electronics

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have 3D printed a ready-to-fly drone with embedded electronics using an aerospace-grade material.

The electronics were incorporated in the drone during the 3D printing process, which employs Stratasys’ ULTEM 9085, a high strength, lightweight FDM (fused deposition modelling) material certified for use in commercial aircraft.

NTU’s Singapore Centre for 3D Printing (SC3DP) and Stratasys Asia Pacific, a subsidiary of Minneapolis-based Stratasys, have jointly developed the drone.

The drone is a quadcopter with four rotors that was designed, 3D printed and flown by Phillip Keane, an NTU PhD candidate from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Embedding electronics into 3D printed parts presented challenges as most will not survive the high temperatures – over 160 degrees C – of the additive process. For the project, commercial grade electronics were modified and placed within the drone at the various stages of the printing process. The motors and propellers were mounted after the entire chassis was completed.

“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,” Keane said in a statement. This involved adding new components to the printed circuit boards and also designing custom housings.”

The drone was completed in less than 14 hours, during which the printing process was paused three times to embed electronics into the chassis.

“The housings which were pre-printed in ULTEM 9085 also provide a flat surface for the 3D printer to continue printing over them. 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.”

In addition to being extremely rugged, the drone is reportedly capable of supporting over 60kg of weight suspended from its structure. Keane is working on the next version of the drone, which will feature better durability, lighter weight and improved flight dynamics.