XYZprinting’s SLS technology: an ideal choice for drone manufacturing

TEKEVER is a Portuguese company that designs and manufactures maritime surveillance drones for the defense and security sectors. Since 2001, it has therefore been developing unmanned aerial systems (UAS), more specifically offering a range of three products, the AR3, AR4 and AR5. The one that interests us more particularly is the AR4 because it incorporates a component printed in 3D on an SLS machine from XYZprinting. By relying on the MfgPro230 xS 3D printer, the company was able to design the body of the turret of its drone by reducing costs and deadlines while respecting the mechanical requirements and properties of the part.

The development of drones involves a certain number of constraints: its components must indeed be solid and resistant to impact, but also light and rigid to guarantee better performance. Using additive manufacturing to produce these parts makes it possible to meet these expectations – the technology is indeed widely proven in the aerospace field. By using only the necessary material and the right material, it is able to optimize the weight/strength ratio of a part while reducing manufacturing times. In any case, this is one of the reasons that prompted TEKEVER to take a closer interest in 3D technologies. She first turned to the deposition of molten material, but the process had some limitations, which led her to test other technologies. She finally opted for a powder sintering solution from XYZprinting.

The turret body modeled in 3D (photo credits: XYZprinting)

From FDM to powder sintering

TEKEVER’s objective is to assess the suitability of SLS in terms of surface quality and resistance. To do this, she decided to make the turret body of her AR4 drone. This is a component that has a very complex shape, with both thin and thick walls, small holes and rounded edges. The company first 3D-printed it on an FDM machine, using ULTEM, a high-performance thermoplastic known for its high weight-to-strength ratio. One of the constraints of this process is the generation of printing supports which adds a higher consumption of materials and which also impacts the final quality of the part. Since powder sintering does not need supports, it was a good alternative to FDM.

Beyond this constraint, we also had to maintain the lightness of the part, optimize the printing time and have a water-resistant part. Three criteria that have been met thanks to the XYZprinting solution.

XYZprinting’s SLS technology meets the constraints of manufacturers

The AR4 drone is an ideal solution for military and commercial applications that require rapid mobile deployment. The system must therefore be as light as possible to offer the best movement. To minimize the weight of the component, it is therefore necessary to reduce the quantity of material required and therefore play on the filling of the part. In SLS, if the object has a closed geometry, vent holes must be added so that unsintered powder can be vented from the inside. The company can either change the design of the part itself or use specific software to modify the filling geometry. In the case of TEKEVER, they added drainage holes and hollowed out the part in order to reduce its weight.

In addition to the design of the part, it was also necessary to optimize the printing time of this part. The SLS process is ideal for this because it allows the different parts to be stacked on top of each other; in a single printing cycle, the company can therefore obtain several components at the same time. The MfgPro230 xS 3D printer offers greater repeatability and a volume of 230 x 230 x 230 mm, therefore allowing multiple iterations. By way of comparison, a part on an FDM 3D printer would represent approximately 16 hours of printing while on the MfgPro230 xS, it would take 10:30. If we manufacture 4 components on an FDM machine, we would have to multiply the printing time by 4, i.e. 64 hours, whereas on the SLS machine, we would count 18 hours and 15 minutes.

3D printed components (photo credits: XYZprinting)

Finally, the AR4 drone is a maritime surveillance solution that regularly passes over the oceans and is exposed to high humidity levels. Its components must therefore be water resistant. The turret body must therefore be 3D printed with a material that has low water and humidity absorption. Precisely, XYZprinting has developed a Nylon 12 that meets these constraints. The sPro12w is characterized by its good chemical resistance, low moisture absorption and excellent surface resolution. It is therefore a material of choice for TEKEVER.

Satisfactory results

The MfgPro230 xS printer has proven to be an ideal choice for manufacturing AR4 drone parts. Thanks to the volume of the machine and the material used, TEKEVER teams can optimize printing time and produce better quality components. The company concludes: “The XYZprinting team provided excellent customer support helping us through the entire process of printing this part, from the right choice of material to the correct orientation for optimal results, removing any doubts that may have arisen..”

If you want to learn more about XYZprinting’s SLS 3D printer, click HERE.

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