XYZprinting’s SLS Technology: Ideal for Drone Manufacturing


TEKEVER is a Portuguese company that designs and manufactures maritime surveillance drones for the defense and security sector. It has been developing Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) since 2001, more precisely offering a series of three products, the AR3, AR4 and AR5. One drone we’re particularly interested in is the AR4 because it incorporates a 3D printed component made by XYZprinting’s SLS machine. By using the MfgPro230 xS 3D printer, the company was able to design the main body of the drone turret while reducing costs and lead times. At the same time respecting the mechanical requirements and properties of the part.

The development of a UAS involves many constraints: its components must be strong and shock-resistant, but also lightweight and strong to ensure better performance. The use of additive manufacturing to produce these parts meets these expectations—a technology that has indeed been extensively proven in aerospace. By using only what is necessary and the right material, the weight/strength ratio of the part can be optimized while reducing manufacturing time. This is one of the reasons why TEKEVER pays close attention to 3D technology. It first turned to fused deposition modeling (FDM), but the process had some limitations, which led it to test other techniques. The company ultimately chose XYZprinting’s selective laser sintering (SLS) solution, in part because of the superior mechanical properties of SLS technology compared to FDM.

The main body of the drone turret (Image source: XYZprinting)

SLS from FDM to UAV

The goal of TEKEVER is to evaluate the correlation of SLS in terms of surface quality and resistance. To that end, it decided to manufacture the turret fuselage for its AR4 drone. This is a very complex shaped part 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 limitations of this process is the necessity of supports, which adds more material consumption and affects the final quality of the part. Since SLS does not require supports, it is a good alternative to FDM.

In addition to this limitation, there is a need to maintain the lightness of the part, optimize the printing time and waterproof the part. XYZprinting’s solution met three criteria.

XYZprinting’s SLS technology meets industry constraints

The AR4 drone is the ideal solution for military and commercial applications that require rapid mobile deployment. Therefore, the system must be as light as possible to provide optimum displacement. Therefore, in order to minimize the weight of the part, it is necessary to reduce the amount of material required and thus reduce the filling of the part. In SLS, if the object has a closed geometry, evacuation holes must be added so that unsintered powder can be evacuated from the inside. Companies can change the design of the part itself or use specific software to modify the fill geometry. In TEKEVER’s case, it added ventilation holes and hollowed out parts to reduce their weight.

In addition to the design of the part, there is also a need to optimize the printing time of the part. The SLS process is ideal for this because it allows different parts to be stacked together, so companies can get multiple components simultaneously in one print cycle. The MfgPro230 xS 3D printer offers increased repeatability and a volume of 230 x 230 x 230 mm, allowing for multiple iterations. In comparison, it takes about 16 hours to print a part on the FDM 3D printer and 10.5 hours on the MfgPro230 xS. In contrast, to make 4 components on an FDM machine, multiply the print time by 4, or 64 hours, and on an SLS machine, it takes just 18 hours and 15 minutes.

The final 3D printed part (Image credit: XYZprinting)

Finally, the AR4 drone is a maritime surveillance solution that is often flown over oceans and exposed to high humidity. Therefore, its components must be waterproof. Therefore, the main body of the turret had to be 3D printed using a material with low water absorption and low hygroscopicity. XYZprinting developed Nylon 12 to meet these requirements. sPro12w is characterized by good chemical resistance, low moisture absorption and excellent surface resolution. This led TEKEVER to choose it as the SLS material for drones.

Satisfying result

The MfgPro230 xS printer has proven to be ideal for the manufacture of AR4 drone parts. Due to the volume of the machine and the materials used, the TEKEVER team was able to optimize the printing time and produce better quality components. The company concluded that “The XYZprinting team cleared up any doubts that might have arisen by helping us provide great customer support throughout the process of printing this part, from proper material selection to the right orientation for the best results.” If you would like to learn more about XYZprinting’s SLS 3D printers, click here.

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