3D printed composite parts provide solution for UAV

New technology uses long carbon fibers to boost strength and stiffness for small yet high-performance aircraft.

Aurora Flight Sciences (Manassas, VA, US) is a well-known Tier 1 supplier of advanced aerospace components and a pioneer in the use of 3D printing in aerospace systems. In November 2015, it worked with Stratasys Inc. (Eden Prairie, MN, US) to produce the world’s first jet-powered, 3D-printed UAV, using fused deposition modeling (FDM) and ULTEM 9085 polyetherimide (PEI) resin from SABIC (Pittsfield, MA, US) for 80% of its parts. The project demonstrated just how quickly you can go from designing to building to flying a 3D printed jet-powered aircraft. The overall design and build time for the 15-kg aircraft, which has a 3m wingspan, and can fly at speeds up to 240 kph, was reduced by 50% vs. conventional manufacturing methods.

Aurora continues to work with a variety of 3D printing technologies, and recently pioneered the use of 3D-printed composite parts reinforced with 25.4-mm-long carbon fibers for a new-development UAV. Although that aircraft cannot be detailed here, its 76-mm by 38-mm rear stabilizer mount, which exploited the composites-based additive manufacturing (CBAM) technology developed by Impossible Objects (Northbrook, IL, US), provides an interesting study in what long-fiber reinforcement can provide in 3D-printed structures.

Aurora Flight Sciences used Impossible Objects’ CBAM technology to 3D print — using 25.4-mm-long carbon fibers in an HDPE matrix — a 76-mm by 38-mm rear stabilizer mount (lower left in the photo) for a developmental UAV similar in size to the Skate UAV, part of an Aurora-developed family of small UAVs.

Aurora Flight Sciences used Impossible Objects’ CBAM technology to 3D print — using 25.4-mm-long carbon fibers in an HDPE matrix — a 76-mm by 38-mm rear stabilizer mount for a developmental UAV similar in size to the Skate UAV shown in the previous photo (above), part of an Aurora-developed family of small UAVs. (Source: Composites World)

Read more about this technology at Composites World, 7/7/16