At the Dubai Airshow, happening the week of Nov. 9, a complex 3-D printed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was unveiled. Built by Stratasys and Aurora Flight Sciences, and using lightweight materials, the high-speed aircraft can achieve speeds in excess of 150 mph.
“A primary goal for us was to show the aerospace industry just how quickly you can go from designing to building to flying a 3-D printed jet-powered aircraft, “ explains Dan Campbell, aerospace research engineer at Aurora Flight Sciences. “Overall, the technology saw us cut the design and build time of the aircraft by 50%.”
The aircraft -- which has a nine foot wingspan and weighs only 33 pounds -– leveraged 3-D printing for 80% of its design and manufacture.
“This is a perfect demonstration of the unique capabilities that additive manufacturing can bring to aerospace,” says Scott Sevcik, aerospace & defense senior business development manager, at Stratasys. “This meant using different 3-D printing materials and technologies together on one aircraft to maximize the benefits of additive manufacturing and 3D print both lightweight and capable structural components.”
The ability to print lightweight components solves a top goal of aerospace manufacturers which is the need to reduce weight. “Whether by air, water or on land, lightweight vehicles use less fuel,” says Sevcik. “This enables companies to lower operational costs, as well as reduce environmental impact. In addition, using only the exact material needed for production is expected to reduce acquisition cost by eliminating waste and reducing scrap and recycling costs.”
Another advantage of this production is that additive manufacturing solutions provide the design-optimization to produce a stiff, lightweight structure without the common restrictions of traditional manufacturing methods. This also enabled the cost-effective development of a customized –- or mission-specific vehicle –- without the cost constraints of low-volume production.