Aerospace AMDefenseDrones/UAVEngineering

Nomad Prototypes unveils resin 3D printed drone

Achieving wall thicknesses of 500 microns using Liqcreate resin and nTop software

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Nomad Prototypes, a UAE-based aerospace engineering company, has reportedly unveiled a drone, which has been 3D printed with resin, instead of more commonly used thermoplastics. The company’s first generation drone, powered by a 7000 mAh battery, can fly for 37 minutes without payload and 22 minutes with a 500g payload. The company is involved in researching a variety of different 3D printing methods, with the ultimate aim of producing the largest 3D printed plastic drone in the world.

According to Nomad Prototypes, the problem with 3D printing drones with FDM arises due to the anisotropic nature of FDM printing, where the printed part has differences in strength depending on the part orientation. While this is acceptable for smaller drones such as multirotor and small planes, the weaknesses between the layers of FDM-printed parts become problematic when scaling up. Specifically, the complex dynamics experienced by a fixed-wing aircraft means that the structural walls need to be printed thicker to compensate for the anisotropy. In short, the weight of the drone increases significantly with the thickening of the structure, yet the overall strength remains lower than what can be achieved with traditional composite manufacturing methods, such as fiberglass or CFRP.

The company has researched multiple 3D printing methods, including FDM, SLA, SLS, MJF, and FGF, over the past decade. The company’s current roadmap to building the world’s largest 3D printed plastic drone involves the use of both SLA and pellet extrusion.

Nomad Prototypes unveils resin 3D printed drone - achieving wall thicknesses of 500 microns using Liqcreate resin and nTop software.

The company’s first-generation drones are small multirotor drones constructed using Liqcreate StrongX resin, a dual-cure photopolymer resin that undergoes UV and thermal curing for enhanced strength. The second-generation resin drone will feature a modular design that can convert to a fixed-wing/VTOL configuration, again 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,” said 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 expand to a 3.2m wingspan, using high-strength composite pellets. The large-scale drone will have a maximum takeoff weight of around 15kg, and will be optimized for low-speed flights, to reduce stresses on the airframe. The company plans to fly this aircraft for a Guinness World Record attempt.

“These composite pellets have a tensile strength that is comparable to aluminum,” said 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 unveils resin 3D printed drone - achieving wall thicknesses of 500 microns using Liqcreate resin and nTop software.

Nomad Prototypes will continue refining their resin drone designs before scaling up to the pellet-printed versions – ensuring that the company perfects the flight dynamics and the assembleability of their design at a smaller scale before committing to the larger design.

Ultimately, the company believes that it will be possible to 3D print a composite aircraft that is capable of carrying a human being, and that the scaling up of 3D printed fixed-wing drones is necessary in order to achieve this.

“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.”

Nomad Prototypes will showcase the project at the ‘Make it in the Emirates’ pitch contest at the Abu Dhabi Energy Center on Monday, May 27th.

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Composites AM 2024

746 composites AM companies individually surveyed and studied. Core composites AM market generated over $785 million in 2023. Market expected to grow to $7.8 billion by 2033 at 25.8% CAGR. This new...

Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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