Farnborough Air Show

EADS and Leeds University “Print” 3-D Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

 - July 9, 2012, 5:45 PM

EADS Innovation Works is here at the show with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that was built using a rapid-prototyping method known as additive layer manufacturing (ALM), or 3-D printing. EADS is exhibiting it to demonstrate the possibilities ALM offers. The plastic-material drone here can’t fly, but EADS plans to manufacture a metal one that will be able to fly.

Four students from the University of Leeds designed the aircraft and using ALM technology, they were able to optimize its structural and aerodynamic characteristics, such as wing twist. “This would otherwise be difficult and expensive to realize for an aircraft of this scale,” according to EADS. In addition, several different, detachable pairs of wings can be designed to adapt the aircraft for different missions. A new wing can be “printed” relatively quickly.

The metallic version will be manufactured at EADS’ Filton, UK ALM facility. More precisely, EADS will use the direct metal laser sintering technique. The idea is to “grow” the part from a fine powder of metal (this is also true for nylon and carbon-reinforced plastics). A high-power laser is directed at the material powder, melting it into solid shape. This is done repetitively, layer by layer. Compared to a machined part, an ALM part typically can be 65 percent lighter.