I posted a number of posting articles about 3D printing drones, the following story was interesting to me because it presented the counter point. What are the downsides of 3D printing? The major concern “the inability to print well-balanced propellers.”
3D printing has shown great potential in the recent past and its combination with UAV design could have significant business potential as users may be able to customize their equipment by printing drone parts themselves.
However, there are some risks involved with 3D printing parts of a drone. One risk is the inability to print well-balanced propellers – these require more traditional manufacturing because so much of the effectiveness of the drone’s flight is dependent on perfectly engineered shapes. While numerous people have tried, few have successfully created 3D printed propellers with low-budget equipment. Those who have succeeded were either using very high quality 3D printers (read expensive) or they have printed them for small drones. My feeling: only buy 3D printed propellers from a specialist manufacturer as it will be the cheaper and safer alternative.
However the article does point out that it is possible and that there are a number of groups that have already successfully designed, 3D printed and tested their drones. These include:
- Hovership: Hovership is a pioneer of 3D printed racing drones. They’ve developed downloadable 3D designs which can be used by anyone. They also sell parts which can be used to complete a 3D printed model of a drone, thus providing a complete solution.
- Engineers from University of Southampton: The school’s engineers successfully launched a 3D printed drone from a Royal Navy warship. They proved that lightweight 3D printed UAVs can work.
- University of Virginia: Their team of engineers designed a military grade drone which can be printed anywhere. They also successfully designed a UAV which is lightweight and at the same time strong enough for stable flight. It’s made of nine printable parts which can be assembled to complete the model.
My key takeaway here is that 3D printing is still a great technology for creating drones, however you will need to test your designs and it’s very reasonable that after testing you will need to reprint components depending upon the quality of your 3D printer. As the cost of 3D printing goes down and the quality goes up, less and less reprinting will be needed.