Home Applications & Case Studies Start-up from the United Arab Emirates 3D prints drones

Start-up from the United Arab Emirates 3D prints drones

The company Nomad in the United Arab Emirates prints drones in 3D using synthetic resins instead of the usual FDM processes.

While FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printing is popular among RC enthusiasts, Nomad Prototypes sees other 3D printing processes as optimized options for drone manufacturing. A major problem with FDM printing is the anisotropic nature of the printing process, where printed parts have different strengths depending on their orientation. This may be acceptable for smaller drones, but for larger aircraft the weaknesses between layers become problematic. In particular, the complex dynamic loads of a fixed-wing aircraft require thicker structural walls to compensate for the anisotropy, which significantly increases the weight of the drone without improving overall strength.

Traditional composite methods such as fiberglass or carbon fiber composites offer high strength and low weight, but are labor intensive and costly with inconsistent quality. Nomad Prototypes aims to increase the efficiency of drone manufacturing by reducing labor costs and maintaining quality through advanced 3D printing technologies.

Nomad Prototypes has been exploring various 3D printing methods such as FDM, SLA, SLS, MJF and FGF for the past ten years. The current plan to produce the world’s largest 3D printed plastic drone involves the use of SLA (resins) and FGF (pellets).

The first-generation drones unveiled this week are small multi-rotor drones constructed with Liqcreate StrongX resin, a dual-cure photopolymer resin. This resin is cured by both UV and heat treatment, which increases its strength.

The second generation of resin drones will feature a modular design that can be converted into a fixed-wing/VTOL configuration, utilizing strong resins and topology optimization for thin, durable wing skins.

“With Liqcreate resin and nTop software, we’ve achieved incredibly thin wall thicknesses of 500 microns,” says Phillip Keane, founder of Nomad Prototypes. “The internal lattice structure supports the walls during printing, enabling much thinner skins than previously possible.”

The third generation will have a wingspan of 3.2 meters and be made with high-strength composite pellets. This large-sized drone will have a maximum take-off weight of around 15 kg and will be optimized for slow flights to reduce stress on the structure. The company plans to attempt a Guinness World Record with this aircraft.

“These composite pellets have a tensile strength that is comparable to aluminum,” remarked Keane. “When the ‘weak’ interlayer strength of your pellet printed parts is three times stronger than the best commercially available FDM filaments, then the problem of anisotropy quickly disappears. You can print thin walls while maintaining superior part strength.”

Nomad Prototypes will continue to refine their resin filament designs before moving on to the pellet-printed versions. This is to ensure that the flight dynamics and mountability of their smaller scale design are perfected before moving on to the larger scale version.

“It’s certainly possible to 3D print a wing out of metal that could support the weight of a human being in flight, although it would be extremely expensive to do so at present”, said Keane. “Given the advances in composite 3D printing, and even pellet printing, it’s not inconceivable that someone could 3D print a small composite aircraft capable of carrying a human in the not too distant future. Just 5 years ago, if someone would have told me that it’s possible to print pellets with strength comparable to aluminum, I would not have believed them. Yet here we are. The 3D printing industry moves very fast.”

Ultimately, the company believes that one day it will be possible to 3D print a composite airplane that can carry a human and sees scaling up 3D printed fixed-wing drones as a necessary step towards achieving this goal.

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