Stratasys in Minneapolis and Optomec in Albuquerque, NM, have completed a joint project to merge 3D printing and printed electronics. The companies claim to have built the world’s first “fully printed hybrid structure.” They used it to build a “smart wing” for an unmanned aerial vehicle with functional electronics.
The wing was 3D printed with the Stratasys’ Fused Deposition Modeling, an additive manufacturing technology that builds functional prototypes and production parts layer-by-layer out of engineering-grade thermoplastics. Then an Optomec Aerosol Jet device printed a conformal sensor, antenna, and circuitry directly onto the wing of the UAV model.
The capability to fabricate electronics into complex-shaped structures using additive manufacturing could let UAVs be built more quickly, with more customization, and potentially closer to the field where they’re needed. In addition, 3D printers allow lighter weight mechanical structures. And conformal electronics printed directly onto the structure frees-up space for additional payload. The technology could also work well in other industries in addition to aerospace/defense.