Additive manufacturing companies put in a lot of time, effort, and money to develop innovative 3D printers that are capable of large-scale and full-color printing, 3D printing with materials like metal, foam, and human tissue, and can produce components both quickly and slowly, as well as on the move.

Then of course, there are the seemingly crazy ideas for 3D printers that really take flight – and I do mean that literally. This week at TCT Asia 2018, Chinese 3D printer manufacturer DediBot introduced a flying 3D printer.

Yes, you did read that correctly. The company from Hangzhou has developed a wide variety of 3D printers, including desktop FFF systems and an SLM-like 3D printer that can print in two different metal materials. But a 3D printer that flies is something pretty special…however, before you get too excited that this will be on the market anytime soon, DediBot’s flying 3D printer is only a concept at the moment, albeit an attention-grabbing concept that shows real evidence of working.

DediBot General Manager Ying Hua introducing the OAM product at TCT Asia

Visitors have been flocking to DediBot’s TCT Asia booth N1-J10 to get a good look at the company’s flying 3D printer prototype, which has been dubbed the Fly Elephant. Maybe because from a certain angle it looks like an elephant, with trunk and ears, or maybe it’s referencing the task the 3D printer was created to do that’s as gargantuan as an elephant.

The Fly Elephant 3D printer is made using a powerful unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), more commonly referred to as a drone, with a Delta-style 3D printer on the bottom. It’s meant to work in a swarm, and not alone, as the company says these groups, since they won’t have to worry about the Z-axis, “will be able to build unlimited structures.”

According to the DediBot website, the Fly Elephant is capable of “A series of processes, from tomography, geomorphology, geological exploration, to architectural planning and design, structural design, construction process design, and print construction, are completely executed by the UAV group, which is not affected by space or climate.”

DediBot says its Fly Elephant can not only extrude a concrete mix in midair to construct large buildings, but it can also directly print large equipment and structures in a zero-gravity environment, and even underwater. The 3D printer does this using specialized software, which can plot out exactly where the system will lay down the material, and an external position system will get the Fly Elephant where it needs to go.

The goal behind the flying 3D printer is to get rid of the traditional construction 3D printing constraints…and here I thought 3D printing was supposed to get rid of the constraints behind conventional forms of construction.

The company refers to its technology as Open-ended Additive Manufacturing (OAM), and the idea is to use UAVs as print execution units to achieve highly accurate, rapid prototyping of large-scale 3D printed structures.

In theory, flight control algorithms will be used to automate the drones, and the plan is for the Fly Elephant to adopt a laser power supply, so that it can continue to work in all types of weather. Additionally, DediBot says the positioning accuracy of the UAV “can be guaranteed to 0.1 mm within 7 grades of wind force.”

DediBot is showcasing the Fly Elephant at its TCT Asia booth this week, along with some example prints made out of concrete. While the flying 3D printer and its whole UAV swarm system may just be conceptual theories at the moment, the company is actively searching for collaborators to help take the project to the next level.

What do you think of this flying 3D printer concept? Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below. 

[Sources: TCT Magazine, DediBot / Images: DediBot]

 

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