As with many other aspects of the DIY community and those who enjoy building a variety of models for fun, 3D printing is making a big impact. For hobbyists who enjoy the new technology, the benefits abound, from the ability to customize at will, rebuild easily after a crash and burn, and do everything on one’s own time—not to mention the affordability factor. Many parts are already created for the DIY’er as well, and today that’s where companies like MaherSoft enter the picture.
Headquartered in Mumbai, MaherSoft actually produces many 3D printed parts for drones, and we’ve been following them as they get ready to release their Indie Desktop 3D printer on Indiegogo soon—offering an early bird price of $450 to backers when it launches (no official date yet). Essentially providing services to engineering and design firms, they make a range of prototypes for clients, as well as end-use finished products. One of their more interesting clients is Drona Aviation. This company, also in Mumbai, is currently the premier drone manufacturer, making and selling DIY kits. They’re also very involved with their DIY/drone hobbyist community, offering a selection of weekly workshops for students as well as enthusiasts.
The two companies have partnered now in developing not only 3D printed motor holders for drone kits, but also accessories for the drone models that are able to serve as prototypes and functional parts. Of course, whenever it comes to manufacturing ‘aircraft,’ material and its resulting weight are a major concern. It was a learning process as MaherSoft investigated which filaments to work with for making the drone parts en masse.
“Choosing the right material based on the application was really important, because every gram of weight would cost flight time,” stated the MaherSoft team in a recent press release. “The heavier the drone, the faster [the] battery will drain. Again, it would be inappropriate to try to navigate properly with an unstable construction made from weak parts.”
Luckily, there are numerous high quality 3D printing filaments on the market today, and the Maher team had a selection to choose from—from the basics in ABS and PLA to a number of alternatives that offer additional strength like carbon fiber. Here’s their take on filaments, in terms of relevance to 3D printing for the drone market:
- PLA – benefits include the range of colors as well as translucencies and the glossy texture. The plant-based origins are obviously a pro, along with the smell. With high printing speeds, low layer heights, and well-defined cornings, MaherSoft saw this as a potentially good choice to begin with for their parts, along with recommending it for home hobbyists and schools.
- ABS – benefits include easy accessibility, affordability, and high temperature resistance. The drawback is definitely the potential for toxic fumes due to its petroleum base. A heated bed is required. This filament is known to be very popular in professional applications, and a favorite with engineers—and a pretty good fit for a company like MaherSoft.
- PLA/ABS exotic filaments with fiberglass and carbon – pros are stability and rigidity. For use in the manufacturing of the drone parts, however, the material is expensive, too brittle to withstand the inevitable crash, and too heavy for the specific intent.
- Nylon – offers great strength as well as temperature resistance and a lightweight quality. The downside is that it’s not particularly easy to work with in this capacity, and is overly expensive.
- PET – this filament is stable and shockproof, but again, pricey—and too heavy for manufacturing drone parts.
And the final verdict was…? After exploring all of these options, the team decided on good old ABS. With PLA being the runner-up, they discovered that parts were not durable enough.
“Printing in PLA is easy and cost effective, but the part was breaking when the motor was pushed into the holder,” said MaherSoft. “On the other hand, ABS shows stable engineering properties, as it is more flexible than PLA and similarly priced. We therefore chose ABS to print production ready parts for Drona Aviation.”
Right now, there are some limits as to what can be made via 3D printing for the drones, but fortunately the pieces that break most often can be. This includes motor holders, landing gear, and propellers.
“We started our iteration with motor holders which fit on the main body, and the motor fits right into the center,” said the MaherSoft team. “We had to develop six prototypes of the motor holder before it was approved for production on our Indie Desktop 3D Printer since the motor holder has to assemble seamlessly to the main body along with the motor inside the holder.”
All involved take the manufacturing of these drone parts very seriously, with consideration for:
- Layer thickness
- Shell thickness
- Flow rate
The team, operating on experience, varied parameters like infill percentage in the range of 40-100% to keep the part weight within the limit. The flow rate had to be set between 90-100%, with shell thickness from 0.8 to 1.2 mm to keep the dimensional tolerances in check. Print speed was set at 40 mm/s. Both overhangs and any post processing were avoided, with parts designed at a 45 degree angle.
“Support free design led to a reduction in production time eventually reducing the cost per piece of the product,” said the MaherSoft team.
While quality and superior manufacturing processes are of course priority, anyone who knows anything about business realizes how important control of that bottom line is, especially as costs are carried down to the customer and reflected in pricing structures. Affordability is often one of the greatest benefits to be found in 3D printing, and although there are still some areas where the use of the technology is cost-prohibitive, in the partnership between MaherSoft and Drona Aviation it was indeed a win all around. The companies were able to reduce cost and improve structural quality of parts—especially through exploring a range of techniques and varying 3D printing parameters.
MaherSoft has just completed an order of 2000+ units of motor holders on its 3D printers. All of the parts printed are production ready. Discuss further in the MaherSoft 3D Printed DIY Drone Parts forum at 3DPB.com.