3D printing is going to change the way all material is produced one day. At some point 3D printers will create the parts for our automobiles, components for computers, our children’s toys, and almost anything else you can think of. A new and exciting prospect for 3D printing is the manufacturing of air drones, unmanned aircraft created from a 3D printer. The production of drone components today is very much an assembly process. Robotics and humans work together on creating identical drones today. The 3D printed air drones of the future can be tweaked and perfected for individual tasks with very little effort.
Do you need a drone for information gathering? Perhaps it needs to collect topography information, or measure readings from an active volcano. Just create a design for it, feed it into the 3D printer and it will produce the right tool for the job. Do you need a drone for spraying crops? Just use a design for it. How about a killer flying robot for the military? You know the government already has a design for that. In fact this process is so painless that a design can go from paper to reality within a matter of days. A team from the University of South Hampton is working on perfecting the printing of these 3D unmanned aircraft, and they have already test flown a prototype.
The process the University of South Hampton is using is known as selective laser sintering. They use a 3D printer in conjunction with a polymer powder to create the parts for the air drone. In this process a prototype component is shaved into appropriate layers and then it is melted into its proper form. This is done layer, by ultra-thin layer, until the component is the proper shape. Not only can this 3D printer create static parts, but it can also create moveable components in the final design with little assembly required.
This seems like an exciting step in the future of aircraft design. Without having to worry about laborers and delicate hand/robot cut components, designers will be freer in their plans. The mathematics and physics of airflow can be more adventurously tackled as less “straight line” designs are needed. Straight line components are easier to create and keep costs down, when you don’t need to worry about cutting the right curvature of a component that issue becomes non-existent. I can’t wait for us all to have consumer 3D printers (or replicators if you will), so I can make my own aircraft and not have to deal with the TSA.