Monday, March 31, 2014

News: AMRC engineers switch focus to unmanned aircraft

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Engineers at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing in Rotherham have successfully printed a 1.5m-wide prototype unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for a research project looking at 3D printing of complex designs.

Based on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) in Rotherham, the AMRC is a world leading model partnership between industry and academia that focuses on advanced machining and materials research for aerospace and other high-value manufacturing sectors. It employs around 200 highly qualified researchers and engineers from around the globe, who have worked on manufacturing challenges for likes of Airbus, Boeing and GKN Aerospace.

Small fixed-wing remote-controlled aircraft – often known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – have a host of applications such as aerial surveys, photography and environmental monitoring. Many different designs are already available, but most are expensive and time-consuming to produce. For some important applications, such as helping search for survivors in disaster areas, UAVs need to be quicker, cheaper and easier to make and fly.

Engineers in the AMRC with Boeing's new Design & Prototyping Group set themselves the challenge of proving that a viable UAV could be made using relatively simple additive manufacturing technologies.

The AMRC team chose a fused deposition modelling (FDM) technology and aimed to design each part of the airframe structure so that it can be printed without any need for support material.

John Mann, development engineer at the AMRC, who created a number of conceptual models for the project, said: "The whole airframe was designed specifically for additive manufacture. The optimum configuration for the diverse requirements of aerodynamic performance and FDM manufacture appeared to be the blended-wing body. This type of design has a number of advantages and, most importantly for this project, lends itself to FDM technology due to the smooth leading and trailing edges over each half-span."

Designed specifically to be 3D printed, the structure took 24 hours to manufacture. Before design for additive manufacture optimisation, this airframe would take over 120 hours to produce.

The final airframe design comprised just nine parts – two wings, two elevons, two spars, two wing end fences and a central spine – all of which were manufactured using the FDM process without any support material. The fewer number of parts also helps reduce the time for manufacture.

The nine airframe parts were designed to clip together and the finished aircraft has a wingspan of 1.5 metres, weighs under 2kg, and can be easily split into two halves around the central spine for easy transport. The last challenge for this proof-of-concept project was to show it could fly – so, after fitting out the airframe as a radio-controlled glider, the team took a trip out into the Peak District.

Dr Garth Nicholson, who led the project, said: "Following successful flight testing, we are working to incorporate blended winglets and twin ducted fan propulsion. We are also investigating full on-board data logging of flight parameters, autonomous operation by GPS, and control by surface morphing technology. Concepts for novel ducted fan designs are also being investigated."

AMRC website

Images: AMRC

1 comments:

Anonymous,  April 1, 2014 at 9:43 PM  

Fantastic development for the local area with a world wide appeal, well done AMRC.

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