As 3D printing technology is used to build parts of a drone, industries are also exploring ways to help each other grow.
Experts said the use of 3D printing for drone manufacturing is not new, but has been limited so far. However, with advances in technology, it now offers higher quality and durable products, which changes the ecosystem, they added.
“The demand for hybrid 3D printing machines has increased significantly in the drone industry in India. The requirement for polyurethane, which is a rubbery material used in the manufacture of landing gear, has increased. Carbon fiber materials are increasingly used in small drones,” said Swapnil Sansare, Managing Director of Divide by Zero, a 3D printing company, and Vice President of the Indian Additive Manufacturing Forum. .
“Companies innovate to meet new expectations and demands. 3D printing service providers are now in a better position to understand what is required and deliver,” said Vipul Singh, co-founder and managing director of Aarav Unmanned Systems (AUS), a drone service provider.
For example, 3D printing is increasingly being used both for prototyping and to build parts used in an end product, unlike most industries where the technology is primarily used for prototyping. Additionally, with 3D printing, drones can be customized to suit a use case: chassis, landing gear, propeller, camera mount and antenna mount, or Protective gear like prop guards are all standard products that can be 3D printed to make drones lightweight. and customizable.
Additionally, specialized use cases such as smart farming may require equipment such as a sprayer, tank, or pump, which can also be 3D printed.
Some shapes and parts are difficult to produce at scale using conventional manufacturing, Singh said. “Now that the ability to develop alloys through 3D printing has increased, it allows for more flexibility in design,” he said.
Homegrown Imaginarium, which offers 3D printed components to drone companies, plans to open a metal printing facility in August. It will use powdered metals to print layers of objects to offer more robust products. “It allows the same design freedom, but you can print in aluminum and titanium, two lightweight metals with a high strength-to-weight ratio,” said Priyesh Mehta, Director of Imaginarium. Additionally, it has other advantages over conventional manufacturing, Mehta said. “Conventional manufacturing depends on the size of the order, and most manufacturers don’t accept small orders, but drone manufacturers don’t have large volume requirements at the moment.”
Mehta said that with the exception of a few companies, most drone companies are in the pre-concept stage and designs are evolving so quickly that it doesn’t make sense to go for mass production. . “They use 3D printing as a bridge because there is no minimum order quantity for 3D printing.”
“While we don’t yet know if the 3D printing industry becomes a long-term solution for the drone industry, additive manufacturing (3D printing) players have a big opportunity,” Mehta said.
Imaginarium applied for the ₹120 crore production incentive scheme for drone manufacturing. India also imposed a ban on imported drones in February. While most parts are still imported, the government’s decision has prompted local businesses to turn to 3D printing companies. Mehta said the industry can reverse engineer parts using 3D scanning and create computer-aided design (CAD) models, which can be used to manufacture on demand.
In fact, the ability to design and build on demand is a key factor that has helped form the synergy between the drone and 3D printing industries. “Being a small startup in a nascent industry, you don’t have regular demand, you build to order. Your batches will be smaller, say, 50-100 drones. Small companies even produce 5-10 drones,” Singh said.