Additive Manufacturing, 3D Printing, Performance Composite Materials for Aerospace Prototypes and Parts

3D-Printed Actuator Protection for Unmanned Helicopters

Feature Article by CRP Technology

Unmanned helicopter with 3D-printed tail rotor actuator housing 1

CRP Technology has released the following case study showing how the company’s Windform XT 2.0 composite material was used to 3D-print the tail rotor actuator housing for an unmanned helicopter platform.

Flying-Cam, a leading designer and manufacturer of unmanned helicopters and provider of professional drone filming services, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary with the world premiere of Discovery, its newest unmanned aerial system (UAS). In order to complete the construction of this new system, the Belgium-based company turned to CRP Technology and its advanced solutions for additive manufacturing using the Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) process with fiber-reinforced composite polymers.

The project

Discovery is a 75kg maximum take-off weight (MTOW) single-rotor unmanned helicopter, and is Flying-Cam’s largest and most versatile system to date, with enhanced endurance features. Flying-Cam involved CRP Technology in the manufacturing of Discovery’s tail rotor gear box housing, which is attached to the main tail boom.

Emmanuel Previnaire, founder and CEO of Flying-Cam, commented: “With the potential that drones offer the civil market, and the interest in Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) flights, we felt it was the right time to develop a drone that could not only capture beautiful imagery for movies, television shows and commercials, but could also carry a variety of payloads to collect the necessary data for other industrial applications.”

“The result was the creation of Discovery, fully integrated with state-of-art sensors carefully chosen to deliver high performance for a variety of applications including entertainment, homeland security, earth monitoring, and general high-precision remote sensing.”

To complete this state-of-the-art system, Flying-Cam needed to be able to count on a capable technological partner who could maintain high quality standards in the construction of reliable components. For these reasons, Flying-Cam opted for CRP Technology’s additive manufacturing solutions with its proprietary high-performance Windform TOP-LINE range of composite materials.

The 3D-printed functional part

The aim of the project was to create lightweight yet rigid physical and aerodynamic protection for Discovery’s tail rotor actuators and the GPS antenna. CRP Technology, according to Flying-Cam’s requirements and standards, opted for a 3D-printing process (PBF – specifically Selective Laser Sintering) with fiber-reinforced composite polymers and Windform XT 2.0 as construction material.

Unmanned helicopter with 3D-printed tail rotor actuator housing 2

Discovery’s tail rotor gear box housing, manufactured by CRP Technology using a PBF 3d-printing process and Windform XT 2.0

Windform XT 2.0 is an advanced carbon fiber-filled polyamide-based 3D printing composite, particularly suitable for demanding applications such as aerospace and UAVs. The material is a replacement for the previous formula of Windform XT in the Windform TOP-LINE family of materials, featuring improvements in mechanical properties including 8% increase in tensile strength, 22% increase in tensile modulus, and 46% increase in elongation at break. The choice of the material was highly suited for the required part, which needed to withstand specific conditions.

“The component was planned to be clamped on the tail boom, and also to support the carbon plate used as tail rotor ground protection. For this reason, good stress resistance was needed. The clamping strength depends on the construction material’s capabilities. We have chosen Windform XT 2.0 as it allows us to achieve this with a good weight-resistance ratio,” added Emmanuel Previnaire.

The mechanical and thermal properties of Windform materials are connected to the characteristics of the 3D printing manufacturing process. According to CRP Technology, the combination of both produces unparalleled, highly technological 3D printed parts, ready to be used.

Previnaire added: “The most innovative aspect in enlisting the 3D printing process and composite materials supplied by CRP Technology is the free shape design, important for aerodynamic purposes, as well as the ability to create complex wiring channels inside with strong attachment points, in one unique piece.”

“Being more specific, the PBF process and Windform materials allow the creation of hollow parts with a lot of functional details, such as integration of fixing nuts and cable attachment points. This is added value that perfectly suited our purposes and standards.”

The importance of the right technological partner

Flying-Cam’s systems have changed over the years in order to keep up to date with the market requests.

Previnaire continued: “In the past, you could stay in business with a product for 15 years. Now, every six months you need to update. For that reason, we designed a platform that follows the pace of technology. To keep up with the ever-changing technology in the UAS industry, and to obtain the highest levels of reliability, safety, precision and adaptability to take on a variety of missions such as mapping and inspections, we rely on partners who not only offer cutting-edge technological solutions but are forerunners of technological innovations at the maximum level, and CRP Technology is among them.”

“We started collaborating with CRP Technology many years ago, for the realization of SARAH 3.0, our electric Vertical Take-Off And Landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial system, now replaced by SARAH 4.0. CRP Technology 3D-printed the airframe structure, air guide cooling system, tail unit and main battery connection.”

In 2014 Flying-Cam was awarded with the Oscar for Scientific and Engineering Award for SARAH’s development. The citation states that “with unparalleled sophistication, Flying-Cam’s SARAH achieves shots impossible for full-size helicopters, cable systems or other traditional camera support devices.”

Previnaire concluded: “We are not outsiders as we won 2 Oscar awards and 1 Emmy award, but this specific Sci-Tech award fills us with pride as it is a further attestation of our professional approach, which is always to strive for excellence, and apply general aviation knowledge and airmanship. This distinguished method will not only continue to push the company’s engineers towards the summit of achievement, but also guides us in the choice of manufacturing partners, who must demonstrate with facts that they are on the same wavelength as us. Starting with SARAH, our collaboration with CRP Technology has continued ever since.”

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Posted by Mike Ball Mike Ball is our resident technical editor here at Unmanned Systems Technology. Combining his passion for teaching, advanced engineering and all things unmanned, Mike keeps a watchful eye over everything related to the unmanned technical sector. With over 10 years’ experience in the unmanned field and a degree in engineering, Mike’s been heading up our technical team here for the last 8 years. Connect & Contact