Dubai Airshow: Stratasys unveils 3D-printed unmanned aerial vehicle

The advancements in 3D printing technologies that has helped the aerospace industry to save time and costs was on show in Dubai on Sunday.

Nasdaq-listed Stratasys unveiled the largest 3D printed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which it said was built in half the time it would have otherwise taken using conventional manufacturing at the Dubai Airshow.

This year’s event features for the first time a dedicated 3D print pavilion – 3D Printshow Dubai – showcasing the latest advances in the sector.

The company known for its 3D printing and additive manufacturing technology teamed up with Virginia-based aerospace company, Aurora Flight Sciences, to build the aircraft that can reach a top speed of more than 240 kilometres per hour. The UAV, which has a 3-metre wingspan and weighs only 15kg, used 3D printing for 80 per cent of its design and manufacture.

“This is a perfect demonstration of the unique capabilities that additive manufacturing can bring to aerospace,” said Scott Sevcik, the business development manager at Stratasys.

Additive manufacturing is a process by which 3D design data is used to make a part or component in layers by depositing material on it, and companies in aerospace and defence have been quick to leverage the technology.

Companies including Rolls-Royce, GE, Boeing and Airbus are using the technology to make parts from additive manufacturing.

The European aircraft maker used more than 1,000 parts on the wide-body A350 aircraft in place of traditionally manufactured parts, helping it to reduce costs and save production time, while GE is testing and developing engines with 3D printed parts.

A report this month from the US market research firm ReportLinker said that global revenue for additive manufacturing in aerospace and defence will reach US$920 million this year with strong growth expected up to 2025.

Jay Shelby, the applications engineer at Stratasys, said that the industry is projected to grow to $20 billion from 2015 to 2020.

The consultancy PwC said 3D printing is emerging as a viable fabrication process that can be used to build prototypes and small-volume production.

ReportLinker however tempered that optimism. It said that some issues facing the sector that need to be addressed include quality control, regulations and limitations to the current technology. The research firm did not specify the steps that need to be undertaken.

PwC said that “if 3D printing remains confined to prototypes, demo units and spacecraft, then it won’t be much of a game changer for industry”, adding that the biggest hurdle to mass production is processing speed.

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