We are always striving to cover the many amazing uses of 3D printing technology. In doing so, we have a tendency to report on the successful flights of various 3D printed drones and other UAVs. 3D printing is a technology that will eventually allow just about anyone to create their own unique aerial vehicles. While the technology is there today, and many individuals have had plenty of success in creating these aircraft, we must also realize that success is usually preceded by failure.
For one freelance mechanical engineer, named Erwin Touwen, 3D printing is a technology that he has recently become quite fond of. In his spare time he designs model airplanes and then 3D prints them on his Leapfrog Creatr Duo 3D printer. He admits that he doesn’t exactly have experience within the field of aircraft design, yet he still set out to attempt and create a working, flying, 3D printed UAV.
“I wanted to get back into the RC model plane hobby after 20 years, but I did not want to build a plane out of balsa wood, nor did I just want to buy a ready to fly model from the store,” Touwen tells 3DPrint.com. “Online I did find a few project[s] that build a model airplane, but none of these models had an integrated fpv camera, and most of them where printed on industrial printers. So I took the challenge to the design a model aircraft that could be printed on a hobby printer.”
Using Autodesk Inventor, Touwen designed the parts of his UAV, and then used Simplify 3D to generate the G-code. He admits that it took him quite some time to design parts that were both light and strong, which could also be printed as fast as possible. Most of his design was based off of other planes used by the military, NASA and hobbyists, so in theory it should have flown quite well.
Touwen’s UAV takes about 220 hours to print out, but he tells us that with all the trial and error that he experimented with, it took him much longer than that. As for non-3D printed parts, the UAV consisted of the following:
- 1x Motor: NTM Prop Drive 35-48 Series 900KV / 815W
- 1x Transmitter and receiver: Turnigy TGY-i10 10ch 2.4GHz Digital Proportional RC System with Telemetry
- 1x TURNIGY Plush 60amp Speed Controller
- 1x Multistar High Capacity 4S 4000mAh Lipo Pack
- 4x Corona DS238MG Digital Metal Gear Servo
- 3x 1 meter Carbon fibre rod 12×10
- 1x Folding Prop Spinner 40mm / 5.0mm shaft
- 1x Carbon Fibre 11×6 Folding Prop Blades
- 3x Control Rod/ABS Sleeve
- 1x Linkage Stopper M3x2xL11.2mm
Once the design was completely 3D printed and assembled the big day arrived for Touwen, when he decided to take it out to a large field for its first flight test.
As you can see in the video below, the flight test did not go quite as planned. Upon launch, the UAV flies just a couple yards in the air before crashing just seconds into the flight.
“At first we expected it was due to the bungee not being released, later by reviewing the video again we concluded that there might also be something wrong with the design,” Touwen tells us. “At a Dutch RC forum we are looking at how we can make the plane fly better. So, after the redesign I might consider printing a large airplane like that. In the mean time I am designing and printing smaller flying wing prototypes. Designing a cool airplane is not very hard. Designing a cool airplane that [flies] right is a lot harder.”
While Touwen spent hundreds of hours working on the design and printing his UAV, it only took a couple seconds for the entire thing to be destroyed. Yet, Touwen is not discouraged and still enjoyed the process every step of the way.
He tells us that one of the main problems with 3D printing aircraft is the fact that 3D printing filaments are not made specifically for this task. For his UAV, he used PLA because it warps less than ABS, but still he believes there are some issues. Plain and simple, filaments are not quite as lightweight and impact resilient as materials such as balsa wood, carbon fiber and plastic films.
The next project on the docket for Touwen is a smaller aircraft, one which won’t take quite as long to create.
“One of the benefits of 3D printing a plane is that when it crashes (and it will!) you can just print a new one,” Touwen explains. “But with a plane that takes about 220 hours to print, that goal is kind of missed. So to have the model printed within a day, I decided to go smaller. My next project is a flying wing that has a 800mm wingspan, and is divided in to 4 sections to fit the printers build volume (230x260x200). It takes about 12 hours to print.”
Regardless, trial and error is a big part of 3D printing. If you expect to have success on your first go, then perhaps the technology is not for you. Let us know what you think of this unique 3D printed UAV. What do you think Touwen should have done differently in ensuring that it would have flown? Discuss in the 3D Printed UAV forum thread on 3DPB.com.