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Sima Valizadeh, who heads up engineering innovation at Atlas Copco Rock Drills AB, a world-leading manufacturer of mining equipment, has been exploring how additive manufacturing (AM) could be used to benefit Atlas Copco. Part of this effort was in converting company management to understand the value and benefits of AM.

Sima called me up on a Friday and told me that she had a board meeting the following Friday, and asked for help in designing something she could use as a showcase of the benefits of AM, in order to help convince the management board of the potential value of AM to the company. She suggested that a drone would be a really cool thing to have as a demonstrator.

My initial thought was that there was no possible way to design and build a working drone in less than a week but, after talking to Sima for a while, she convinced me of the value such a showcase for Atlas Copco. So I agreed to give it a go... That afternoon I went to the local hobby shop and bought an off-the-shelf drone that I could "borrow" all the electronics from, as there was no way I could design and make all the electronics within that timespan.

I spent the weekend designing the drone in Solidworks, started printing the initial design on the Monday, took all the parts out of the printer on Tuesday, had it assembled and tested by the end of Wednesday (including a second iteration with stronger 'spring' feet to soften the landings), shipped it to Sima on the Thursday, and she was able to fly it at the board meeting on the Friday.

In terms of design, I didn't do anything major, other than continuously striving to keep everything as lightweight, but as rigid, as possible. I also designed cages around the propellers, so it could hit walls or ceilings without it greatly affecting the flight.

Here is the drone on its first maiden flight down the corridor at Lund University. This is where my poor flying skills taught me that the landing feet needed to be beefed up to cope with my crash landings:

The finished drone served as an excellent example of how, with the help of additive manufacturing, real working products can be very quickly designed, built, tested and delivered to the customer. Obviously, the value of the products needs to be high enough to justify the use of a relatively expensive manufacturing technology. But, even today, there are many high-value low-volume products that the technology is suitable for and, in the future, as costs come down, more and more products may become suitable candidates for AM.

The drone was printed on an EOS Formiga P110 SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) system, out of nylon powder, and with a layer thickness of 0.1mm.



copyright 2011, olaf diegel