Stratasys and Optomec Inc. have developed “smart wing” for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) model by combining 3D printing with functional electronics. The wing was printed with Stratasys’ fused deposition modeling (FDM) process, and then Optomec’s Aerosol Jet system was used to print a conformal sensor, antenna and circuitry directly onto the wing. The electrical and sensor designs were provided by UAV supplier Aurora Flight Sciences.
According to the companies, the fully printed hybrid structure can provide benefits over traditional prototyping, manufacturing and field-repair processes. Product performance and functionality can be improved because 3D printers enable lighter-weight mechanical structures and conformal electronics printed directly onto the structure frees up space for additional payload. The process also uses fewer materials, decreasing environmental impact.
The technology is suited for a variety of applications, including medical devices, consumer electronics, automotive and aerospace. In the UAV industry, the ability to fabricate functional electronics into complex-shaped structures using additive manufacturing can enable UAVs to be built more quickly, with more customization, and potentially closer to the field where they’re needed, Aurora Flight Services says.