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Transportation United Kingdom Technology

Aircraft Made From 3D Printing 68

countertrolling tips news of a project undertaken at the University of Southampton, where engineers designed and created a functioning UAV using unusual methods. Quoting: "It was printed on an EOS EOSINT P730 nylon laser sintering machine, which fabricates plastic or metal objects, building up the item layer by layer. No fasteners were used and all equipment was attached using ‘snap fit’ techniques so that the entire aircraft can be put together without tools in minutes. The electric-powered aircraft, with a 2-meter wingspan, has a top speed of nearly 100 miles per hour, but when in cruise mode is almost silent. The aircraft is also equipped with a miniature autopilot developed by Dr. Matt Bennett, one of the members of the team."
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Aircraft Made From 3D Printing

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  • Or did they just go CORD and use a legislation man

  • by supertrinko ( 1396985 ) on Saturday July 30, 2011 @03:34PM (#36934564)
    Well I guess soon you will.
  • by Bios_Hakr ( 68586 ) <xptical@@@gmail...com> on Saturday July 30, 2011 @03:35PM (#36934566)

    I've been following the following thread over at RC Groups for about a month:

    http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/thumbgallery.php?do=threadgallery&t=1455808 [rcgroups.com]

    It's 124 grams right now and almost ready to fly.

  • Copyfight! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Saturday July 30, 2011 @03:36PM (#36934582)

    You know those anti-piracy "ads" that say something like, "You wouldn't steal a car, would you?"

    I always though the obvious response was, "No, but if I could download a car and print it out for free, I sure would!"

    Looks like that day is getting pretty close.

    • Re:Copyfight! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Saturday July 30, 2011 @04:18PM (#36934776) Homepage Journal

      Am I the only one who gets the urge to steal a car when I see those ads? I mean, the whole "Gone In 60 Seconds" style of that ad kind of glamorizes all sorts of bad stuff. You might even be able to legitimately argue that those ads drove you to steal someone's handbag.... Besides, if brutally ripping a purse away from some elderly lady is no worse than pirating a DVD off the Internet, then we might as well all rape and pillage. After all, it's all the same level of wrong.

      Nothing sane or rational can come of that ad. Just saying.

    • I definitely agree !

      It also seems to me that the Southampton Engineers have been reading Doctorow's "Makers" [craphound.com] and taking it to heart, as we all should.

  • Ze plane! Ze plane!

  • Video (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    More details and video here:


    • To me it looks like an APC prop on it.

      I'd be very impressed if they could print a propeller.

      • should be able to. Shapeways says that they have printed turbines for mini jet engines for customers (from stainless steel) which work, so i can't see why they could not print your basic propeller.
        • by HiThere ( 15173 )

          The printer that they (University of South Hampton) used basically prints nylon, and also a bit of metal. I doubt that means it can print stainless steel.

          OTOH, nylon might well be good enough for the propeller on a plane that small.

          • As a general rule, as prop size goes down, RPM goes up. Tip speed is fairly constant. I can hear the video and guess about 18-20 kRPM. (I should get out the tach but I am lazy)

            At the cheap end of the RC prop market you see lots of injection molded fiberglass reinforced nylon.

            Like I said, it looks like an APC prop to me (they have a funny hub transition). You can get a decent look at 1:11 in the video. If it isn't an APC prop it's a copy (either one they made of bought from China). Not a naive design. M

  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Saturday July 30, 2011 @04:04PM (#36934720)
    I come to /. to read stories. This is the first one in a long while where I can genuinely say "Wow .. I'm impressed", both with the topic itself, and TFA that was clear, concise and not someones link spam blog.
  • by DadLeopard ( 1290796 ) on Saturday July 30, 2011 @04:08PM (#36934738)
    Looking at the post about the RC Group and checking out the article and following up on Geodetic Structure, it seems to me that the ability to use a geodetic structure approach, makes this plane a whole lot better, in a way that can't easily be done by any other method. It's lighter and stronger that the normal spars and ribs used normally! It even looks like the geodetic structure is integral with the skin! Though if the wings were made all in one piece, I bet they had a tough time hooking up the linkages for the control surfaces.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fikx ( 704101 )
      Along the same lines, does making them from one piece make them harder to fix when you crack one up? you'd have to replace the whole body I would imagine...
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Probably not. Its pretty rare that a small plane will split at a glue joint, unless the joint is mechanically weak. The glue is usually stronger than the material. Usually you get a few cracked ribs, maybe a cracked spar. Fuselages are already made from either plywood slabs or rib/stringers. All of that is going to break somewhere, most likely away from a joint.

        When you move on from traditional wood construction to composites, all bets are off. If you crash, its going to end up in pieces. Small dents and cr

    • This is going to lead to all kinds of applications for geodetic structures in places where they haven't been used before, such as cars and buildings.
      All you would need is a really big printer: Large-scale 3D printer. [fluidforms.eu]

      Now if they could also print the engines...
    • Bucky Fuller RULES!!!

  • More details and video here [newscientist.com]
    • From those images, it really looks like propulsion is via a rubber-band powered propeller. The future of flight!

    • I stopped reading after this bit of idiocy:
      "It would be electric-motor-powered to eliminate the need for starting equipment and heavy fuel."

      (Oh, batteries have more energy density than gas now?)

  • I wonder how this scales to a mass production environment. The article points out that they want to try design features that are not cost effective for traditional manufacturing technology.

    Suppose that they create a design that uses some features that cannot be easily translated to normal manufacturing. Could they still move it to market using the prototype manufacturing technology, or would it just be too expensive?

    • Re:Mass Production (Score:4, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Saturday July 30, 2011 @05:33PM (#36935274) Journal
      Depends on what the market wants. Compared to the cost/unit of a high volume injection molding setup, the cost of a plastic laser sintered part is going to be downright sickening(the manufacturer [eos.info] doesn't list prices; but that typically means you don't want to know. 2x 50watt lasers, precision optics, control widgetry, etc. isn't going to be inexpensive, and such devices are not all that fast. Fast if you just count time from CAD to first part? Definitely. Fast per part? Not at all...) However, if the air force just has to have 15% more loiter time or whatever, they might be willing to put up with it.

      Especially for something like UAVs, though, where small size and autonomous cheapness are usually the selling points, "20% better, 20x the price!" is going to have some trouble competing with "almost as good, and you can order spares by the container-load for barely more than the cost of plastics and just saturate the area!"
      • Re:Mass Production (Score:4, Interesting)

        by bcmm ( 768152 ) on Saturday July 30, 2011 @06:30PM (#36935630)
        Or maybe building the entire airframe out of it is a gimmick intended to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology, but laser sintering will make sense as just another manufacturing technique, used for those parts it applies best to. For example, the press release claims that eliptical wings are very difficult and expensive to manufacture, so perhaps it would be economical to attach printed wings to an otherwise conventionally-built aircraft.
      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        So what you do is concentrate on making the printers cheaper and better, and then sell lots of printers, so people can print up what they want on an "as needed" basis. This saves warehousing, inventory, etc.

        For something large, printing it on site saves shipping...though of course you do need to ship the printer, and it needs to traverse the site.

        I expect that eventually, if the technology is successful, there will be a variety of different printers for special purposes, and a few general models for home u

  • How much does the printer cost (and the ink cartridges)

  • Terrorist Device (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Saturday July 30, 2011 @05:30PM (#36935260) Homepage Journal

    So how long before 3d printers are illegal? I'm sure stuff like the rap rep, or whatever it's called will continue to be OK. But the truly nifty stuff, the ones that can make a drone or other truly "interesting" things?

    I'd expect the 3d printer technology to get "capped" at something below the level of TFA. It'll be in the name of "stopping terrorism", but behind the scenes there'll be some terrified parties in the commercial sector that don't want their profit models rendered obsolete.

    For the Sci-Fi example, read Joe Haldeman's "The Forever Peace" and pay special attention to the "nano-forge" the the corrupt BS surrounding that.

    • Doubtful. Highly doubtful. 3d printers are faster than their traditional manufacturing coutnerparts in some applications, but they don't allow you to manufacture anything you couldn't before. Other than that, the idea (while fittingly /. tinfoil-hatty) seems absurd.
      • by fluffy99 ( 870997 ) on Saturday July 30, 2011 @08:16PM (#36936152)

        Actually the whole point is that you CAN manufacture things you could not before. For example the internal structures of the wings. It's possible for instance with traditional mold&glue techniques to create a complex honeycomb pattern inside the wings, etc. Sure you could press out a zillion little internal pieces and build it up, but that's not practical and the result would be weaker and heavier.

      • by dpilot ( 134227 )

        The difference is that you can make some of these things with no specialized equipment other than the 3d printer. In other words, for real-world-things you can now "look it up on the internet." It lowers the bar.

        Any tinfoil hat I may wear is nothing compared to what some in DC may have. (Or maybe I saw too much of Colonel Flag in "MASH".) Besides, I suggested that behind the scenes there are commercial interests seeing the troubles of the RIAA and MPAA and would just as soon never see the physical world

  • Whew... at first I thought it said EPSON and that would surely fail...

  • Are the files needed to print one of these up on Thingiverse yet?
  • This is hardly new. I wrote about the P-175 Polecat UAV 5 years ago. Lockheed-Martin's famous Skunk Works used 3D printing to fabricate most of the airframe http://aerogo.xanga.com/510321696/polecats-flying-cars-and-skunk-workx/ [xanga.com] and http://aerogo.xanga.com/511717517/the-downloadable-future-aircraft-kit/ [xanga.com]
  • Just wait until skynet gets ahold of these machines.

  • by __aazsst3756 ( 1248694 ) on Sunday July 31, 2011 @02:07AM (#36937304)
    What are the limits on this technology? Most 2-4 person planes are very low volume, making tooling very expensive. Could this reduce the cost and complexity of a kit aircraft, while making the design much more elegant aerodynamically? (yes... proud EAA member here, just back from Oshkosh!)
    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      There are two basic constraints (besides costs). One is the strength of the materials. The printer used by the University of South Hampton uses nylon as it's structural material. That's pretty good, but not excellent. The other is the size of piece that the printer can print. IIRC the University of South Hampton printer can only handle things up to a meter long.

      Note that these aren't intrinsic limits. There exist printers that can print titanium. I don't really know the strength of the material print

  • by 7-Vodka ( 195504 ) on Sunday July 31, 2011 @03:29AM (#36937598) Journal
    Video here:

    Clicky [youtube.com]

  • IMO the big news is that the printed parts are strong enough to do this. The printing processes I've seen so far result in parts that are too brittle to serve as anything except decoration or as mould masters.

  • Don't just throw an abbreviation such as UAV out there, without putting its words in parenthesis (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). UAV can also stand for other things, like Upper Atmospheric Vehicle. Most TLA (three letter acronyms) are overloaded (TLA also means Two Letter Acronym)

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