How 3D Printing is making Drones Affordable and Accessible
The dawn of the Drone Age has already begun. We hear about these aerial vehicles quite often now. These unmanned flyers have proven themselves to be efficient workers, capable of carrying out precise jobs and are expected to change our world in the most interesting ways.
Drones in the sky, in the sea and on the land are now setting examples of how the technology is going to improve our everyday life. So far these unmanned vehicles have been widely used for purposes like journalism, aerial photography, military transport, disaster aid and spraying crops with fertilizers or pesticides. Are you excited about the future where drones will be an integral part of possibly every field? Then, you also deserve to know about another game changer technology; 3D Printing. Also termed as additive manufacturing, the technology is considered to be a genie that creates 3-dimensional physical objects directly from the 3D design. Almost every industry has started evaluating and adopting the technology to reap its benefits. Let’s talk about how 3D Printing is making Drones affordable and accessible.
Benefits of using 3D Printing for Drone Making
- Customized Drones: 3D Printing allows you to manufacture personalized products according to an individual's needs and requirements. This increases the feasibility of making customized drones. Any specific part of a store-bought drone can also be tailored to suit your needs.
- Easy Upgradation: 3D Printing supports upgradation of drone’s parts to make it more efficient. Design iterations are very economical with the technology as compared to the traditional ways. This brings in the scope of making many modifications in the 3D design, 3D Printing them and testing the 3D Printed parts till the desired result is achieved. Flexibility and speed do not stand in the way of the experiment.
- Improved Performance: The weight of a drone affects its flight time. The lighter the drone is, the longer it flies. A light drone has improved battery life, is more responsive and agile during the flight. It also remains stable in case of hard landings or crashes. The 3D Printed parts are made lighter by optimizing the design structures to carry the required weight. The choice of raw material used for 3D Printing also plays an important role in making the parts light.
- Saves Downtime: You can 3D Print the hard to find spare parts of your drones rather than running in search for them every time they break off in a crash. This would save you from a lot of downtime.
Drone Parts that can be 3D Printed
Almost everything apart from the electronic components in a drone can be 3D Printed. Following is the list of a few components that I can think of right now:
- Landing gear
- Camera mount
- Antenna holder
- Protective equipment like prop guards
The possibilities of 3D Printing are limited just by imagination. You can add many more functional as well as non-functional accessories to the list.
Companies using 3D Printing to manufacture drones
Following is the list of a few companies that have deployed 3D Printing in the process of drone manufacturing.
Blue Robotics: This Company based in Southern California adopted 3D Printing for developing their submarine drones. The technology was used for prototyping as well as for manufacturing certain parts of their underwater drone at a low cost without affecting the quality. This helped them test their product in a shorter time, without having to order parts in bulk, which usually happens in other manufacturing processes like injection molding. With the help of 3D designing and 3D Printing the company was able to make a unique product that allowed their underwater drone to operate fully even when submerged in salt water.
- This Italian company uses 3D Printing to make lightweight components for their drones. It helps them in maximizing the battery power and in increasing the unmanned aerial vehicle’s flying time. They use Laser Sintering 3D Printing technique, which allows them to create complex parts even in small quantities. Soleon produces a number of on demand customized drones, made to serve distinct purposes. Recently, they came up with their 3D Printed agricultural pest control drone called SoleonAgro. It is a useful agricultural tool with the look of a wasp.
- The Netherlands based company Aerialtronics makes drones for applications like livestock monitoring, infrastructure inspection and creative filming. It offers customizable drones with several tailoring options like number of motors, variations of software systems, motor housings, and custom enclosures for hardware and software. Making limited versions via traditional manufacturing options would have been slow and very expensive. Whereas the usage of 3D Printing allows them to go for many design iterations, reducing their R&D cost by approximately 50%.
3D Printing has been able to pave way for many expensive industries to thrive. Drone making companies should definitely welcome this technology to take their product development to the next level. Being able to create the right 3D Design and chose the right material is the key.
Manya Jha is one of the founders at Morphedo, a 3D Printing product and services startup.
Aspiring to be a serial entrepreneur she is a firm believer of the fact that luck is created by persistence and hard work. She loves reading business books.