3D printing and drones: How much do these exciting technologies have in common? More than you might think.
So you’re a big fan of drones. But have you ever thought about 3D printed drones? It’s not as crazy an idea as it might sound.
While it’s not yet possible to fabricate electrical components like motors, sensors or even electronics – but watch this space – it’s entirely possible to 3D print drone parts like the frame, landing gear, and propellers. And these are usually the parts that break easily.
Have we piqued your interest? Read about the pros and cons of 3D printing drones, plus a guide to the best resources to be found online.
Here’s Why You Should 3D Printed Drones
What‘s the benefit of 3D printing drones? If you’re not an experienced RC pilot, crashing and breaking parts of your aerial vehicle can be expensive. Instead of buying new parts at a hobby shop, you can 3D print your own spare parts as needed.
With your own 3D printer to hand, part designs can be easily upgraded and further developed to improve the performance of your quadcopter. On top of that, 3D printed drone parts are quickly interchangeable and you can do it yourself. You can even have the parts manufactured by a professional 3D printing service – if you want to get the best price for a special item, please consult All3DP’s price comparison service.
Building your own RC vehicle out of 3D printed parts serves as a great opportunity to learn about how it works and how it reacts to modifications you make.
Things to Consider First
First, 3D printing takes time. It can take up to several hours to print a small sized part of sufficient quality.
Moreover, becoming an expert in 3D modeling and 3D printing requires skills you have to develop and practice. In the early stages, a beginner may experience frustration when designing the parts they need.
But don’t worry, there are plenty of tutorials online, plus websites where you can find .STL files of 3d printable drone parts which you can download and print without having to create them yourself.
Other than the above, there aren’t many reasons why you shouldn’t just go ahead and 3D print your own parts!
Best Resources for 3D Printing Drones
There are many resources online that not only offer 3D printed drone parts for existing makes and models, but also instructions how to build your own with 3D printed parts.
You’ll need to buy the electronic components in most cases, but a significant chunk of the parts can be fabricated on any 3D printer.
- For starters, check out this list of 3D printed multi-rotors on the RCgroups forum.
- Another good resource is the “3D printing drone parts” group on DIYdrones.com. Here you’ll find an overview of the best DIY drones with 3D printed parts.
- But by far the best-looking 3D printed drone project is probably the DJI Inspired 3D Printed Quadcopter. It’s a 3D printable copycat of the actual DJI Inspire One. Instructions and parts can be downloaded here and the discussion with a huge load of tips here. You can also buy the .STL files on the RC Hobbies UK website.
Watch the amazing mechanism that moves the landing struts up when in mid-air (to lower the center of gravity) and down while landing… It’s a really sophisticated piece of design.
Where to Start 3D Printing Drone Accessories
Aside from vital components, there is a huge variety of extra things you can add to your quad-copter. There are functional accessories… and then less functional accessories.
One might make a flying Helicarrier from The Avengers movie out of their drone (which would be awesome). Others will stick to more practical applications like 3D printed propeller guards, cases for transportation and mounts for various cameras used on FPV drones (which is also awesome).
The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
Option 1: Protect your Vehicle
Parts you can 3D print range from optional accessories to add-on protective equipment like prop guards. The latter are useful for small indoor quadcopters like the Hubsan X4 and gear protectors for the very popular Parrot AR versions.
Every part that will commonly bump into obstacles (including the ground) may need replacement at some point. If you 3D print drone spares, you won’t suffer from much downtime when this occurs.
Option 2: 3D Printed Drone Mounts
Of course, we’re not referring to mounting the drone onto something, that would be pointless. Rather, the idea is to mount accessories onto the drone.
And if you’re planning on getting started with FPV drone racing, 3D printed parts like a camera mount as well as mounts for the live video transmitter or maybe an additional antenna holder are highly useful.
Elsewhere, the GoPro mount for the Phantom 2 lets you add the standard GoPro accessories onto your aerial vehicle.
If you want to know more, please consult this article.
Option 3: Boost the drone’s range with 3D Printed Parts
There are many ways you can come up with iterations of existing parts that may or may not improve your drone – and it’s fun to experiment for sure!
For different use cases, different designs will prove worthwhile. For the hobbyist that buys a fully assembled quadcopter (like the DJI Phantom or Inspire models), they’ll still appreciate a simple 3D printed range booster that, acting as a parabolic reflector with some metallic tape, will increase the range of the remote control threefold.
Elsewhere, the tech enthusiast that builds his own drone from scratch can improve the accuracy of his onboard electronics by eliminating general shakiness with a 3D Printed Anti Vibration Mount, which still conducts major movements that come from actual changes in flight.
3D Printed Drone Parts: What’s the Best Material?
Choosing the right material is vital, because every gram of weight will cost you flight time. Why? Because the heavier the drone, the faster the drain on the drone’s battery. At the same time, it would be foolish to try to navigate properly with a wobbly construction made from shoddy parts.
There are many “high-grade” 3D printing filaments available. They are sold as extra-strong and durable alternatives to the widely used PLA and ABS. You can also spend extra cash on some enhanced filament spools with carbon fiber. So, should you print in nylon, PET or rather use some exotic stuff you haven’t even heard of yet?
Here’s a quick summary of the options you have:
- PLA is easy to work with, has no odor, and is cheap and widely available. However, it’s not UV or heat-resistant.
- ABS is tough and stable, lightweight, and has better temperature resistance. It’s also cheap and widely available. However, you need a heated print bed for optimal results, and there are the dreaded toxic fumes to consider.
- PLA / ABS-like filaments with fiberglass or carbon fiber are stable and rigid, but expensive. They require a heated print bed. Also, they’re too brittle for crashes, and not very lightweight despite the fiber.
- Nylon has amazing strength and temperature resistance, and is lightweight, but it’s tricky to print with.
- PET / PETG is stable and shockproof, but it requires a heated print bed, is relatively expensive, and quite heavy.
In conclusion, you can almost always print in PLA when you’re an absolute beginner, and should transition to ABS when you’re ready for the big leagues. Advanced 3D printing and drone pros will also enjoy printing with Nylon.
If you want more information on filaments, please continue here.
License: The text of "3D Print Drones: Resources, Materials and Ideas" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.