Stratasys and Aurora Flight Sciences unveiled at this week’s Dubai Airshow an aircraft built using lightweight Stratasys materials to achieve speeds in excess of 150 mph. The team leveraged 3D printing for 80% of the design and manufacture of the demonstration UAV, which has a 9-ft wingspan and a mass of just only 33 lb.
According to Dan Campbell, Aerospace Research Engineer at Aurora Flight Sciences, the project achieved various targets. “A primary goal for us was to show the aerospace industry just how quickly you can go from designing to building to flying a 3D printed jet-powered aircraft. To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest, fastest, and most complex 3D printed UAV ever produced.”
Stratasys provided Aurora design-optimization solutions to produce a stiff, lightweight structure without the common restrictions of traditional manufacturing methods. This also enabled the development of a customized, mission-specific vehicle without the cost constraints of low-volume production.
“Overall, the technology saw us cut the design and build time of the aircraft by 50%,” added Campbell.
“This meant using different 3D printing materials and technologies together on one aircraft to maximize the benefits of additive manufacturing and 3D print both lightweight and capable structural components,” said Scott Sevcik, Aerospace & Defense Senior Business Development Manager, Vertical Solutions at Stratasys.
According to Sevcik, the project “exemplifies the power” of Stratasys’ fused-deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printing technology, allowing the team “to build a completely enclosed, hollow structure that, unlike other manufacturing methods, allows large, yet less dense, objects to be produced.”
Besides leveraging FDM materials for all large and structural elements, Stratasys chose to laser sinter the nylon fuel tank, and the UAV's thrust vectoring exhaust nozzle was 3D printed in metal to withstand the extreme heat at the engine nozzle.
“Because Stratasys is able to produce parts that meet the flame, smoke, and toxicity requirements set by the FAA, ULTEM has become the 3D printing material of choice for many of our aerospace customers for final production applications,” said Sevcik.
Sevcik stressed that this particular collaborative project with Aurora achieved one of the foremost overall goals across the aerospace industry, not to mention many other industries, which is the need to constantly reduce weight.
No matter where they are being used, “lightweight vehicles use less fuel. This enables companies to lower operational costs, as well as reduce environmental impact. Using only the exact material needed for production is expected to reduce acquisition cost by eliminating waste and reducing scrap and recycling costs,” he said.