Is it necessary?
Why would you want to build your own drone using a 3-D printer? Well for the Frankenstein in you, you may want to engineer your own radical design in hopes of creating a one of a kind flying monster. The same could be said to car enthusiasts who build their own cars from the ground up. If you happen to own an expensive 3-D printer, chances are you have engineering in your blood and love the aspect of customizing anything you can. This would be the ultimate DIY experience. It would also bring down the costs of parts and accessories needed to maintain your UAV.
What can be printed?
The good thing about 3D printing is that many things on a drone can be printed. The things that are most often printed are:
- Wiring cover (attachments around a wire between antenna and the transmitter)
- Frame for camera and other frames
- [sometimes] also mounts for camera
- Landing gear (like landing legs if you decide to make them)
In general the computing components of the drone, such as the receiver or controller, cannot be made from 3-D prints.
The rise of 3D printing
3-D printing has exploded in the popular culture this year. The concept was actually developed in 1984 and since then the industry has advanced remarkably. Different manufacturing companies are currently using it and even school are teaching kids how to use this technology as well. 3-D printing is on the rise and more and more people are starting to get interested in the technology. It will be interesting to see where 3-D printing will go in the coming years.
3D printing drone designs
There are two ways to go about 3-D printing. One way is to start from scratch and design the models yourself. This may work of course, but if you have very little knowledge of aerodynamics and physics, this may be a challenge. There are, of course, a great many things to consider than simply creating for cosmetic reasons.
Another way to go is to search for predesigned plans on the internet. That is because there are quite a lot of people 3D printing drones and they share their designs and 3D printing files. As the community grows, there are more and more designs posted on the Internet. An example of a site is Thingaverse. They have over 1000 designs and you may want to start there. Another avenue to consider is to look at the various forums relating to 3-D printing. There you can receive help from other designers and may also get design samples as well.
When printing a drone it is in general important to know which materials are used on a drone. A frame is usually made of one of the following:
- Carbon fiber is widely used. The material is light and stiff and therefore a great material to make a drone with. But it is quite expensive. It is conductive and you should be aware that it can block a signal. It is still a very useful material.
- Aluminum is also widely used. The material is cheap and light (although not as light as carbon fiber). It is also conductive so care must be taken when applying it with batteries.
- Fiberglass is similar to carbon fiber. But it is heavier and softer than carbon fiber. It is easy and cheap to build, but hard to repair. Because of that it does not have the best reputation.
- Polycarbonate or Lexan is a bit heavy and stiff, but not very strong. The good thing about it is that it is quite inexpensive. It is conductive and easy to construct.
- Balsa Wood is another cheap material that is light and strong. It is fairly stiff and it is easy to construct parts with it. But it is not so widely used because it has low density and reduces thrust.
- Steel is also sometimes used. Its obvious downside is that it is too heavy and therefore not the best for drones. The good thing about it is that it is very strong material.
- Titanium is a very strong and light material. As such it is one of the best materials for drones. The downside? It is very expensive.
All in all, it is good to know the physical properties of materials before using them on your design. That is why a proper research should be made before you start 3D printing your drone.
Make sure you know...
When you start to design your drone, keep in mind what you are using the drone for. This will dictate what materials you should use. For example, if you are wanting to build a FPV racing drone, you may want to consider using a light weight like Carbon fiber. Choose the appropriate materials when planning to ensure you will have a good design in the end.
Start your 3-D print journey.
Steps are actually not that hard. First you just print all the parts and then you put all the electronics and all the parts together. The first time it might be a bit hard, but you learn as you go and you can 3-D print drones much easier the second time around. It becomes a hobby and an interesting thing to do. And flying around with your custom made drone is extremely rewarding in the end.