Stratasys Blog

3D Printing Helps Hexacopter Drone Soar Over Design Challenges

Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT) has become a beacon of innovation for its adoption of additive manufacturing.  After successfully launching a 3D printing course last fall, based on the free Stratasys curriculum “Make Something That Moves Something,” WIT created a rapid prototyping course integrating Stratasys’ FDM and PolyJet 3D printing technologies.

Stratasys 3D printing provided unique design freedom and robust materials that were strong enough to secure delicate internal components, like electrical circuit boards and wires, while remaining relatively light in weight for flight takeoffs.
Stratasys 3D printing provided unique design freedom and robust materials that were strong enough to secure delicate internal components, like electrical circuit boards and wires, while remaining relatively light in weight for flight takeoffs.

The interdisciplinary course challenged 65 students from industrial design, mechanical engineering and manufacturing studies to develop a functional hexacopter ‘drone’ using six different manufacturing processes: CNC turning, CNC milling, resin casting, vacuum forming, laser cutting and 3D printing. More than 95% of the 3D printed components were produced using the Stratasys uPrint SE and Objet30 3D Printers.

“Our design was very influenced by 3D printing,” said Nathan Ouellette, a senior at WIT. “It offered a unique aspect to our design, where we were able to control something in three dimensions, as opposed to just milling it in two dimensions. It offers you a whole new path to prototyping.”

According to assistant professor and mechanical engineer, Stephen Chomyszak, 3D printing enabled students to iterate custom designs to accommodate electrical components without the use of additional screws, brackets or fasteners to secure the delicate internal parts. This was an integral part of reducing the overall weight of the design and eliminating production and assembly processes.

Out of 11 teams, a total of 10 were successful in flying their custom hexacopter designs.
Out of 11 teams, a total of 10 were successful in flying their custom hexacopter designs.

“To be able to design something and then immediately have it in front of you, you’re able to see what you did right, what you did wrong and how you can improve it,” said Ouellette. “It’s something that you can’t do with most manufacturing processes, particularly with this amount of detail.”

Ouellette, like many students in the course, demonstrated a wealth of knowledge in 3D printing as a result of his experience in Wentworth’s 3D printing course last fall. “Having an entire semester to learn about the processes of 3D printing—learning about the two technologies, the different printers and materials used—really prepared me to understand the capabilities of 3D printing and how extensive we could get.”

“We are seeing a global arms race emerging for engineering and advanced manufacturing skills. This is requiring institutions to focus on graduating students with a full spectrum of career ready skills,” said Sig Behrens, General Manager of Global Education, Stratasys.  “One key way of making this a reality is for students to engage in project based learning initiatives, like what WIT has committed to and Stratasys has supported.”

Click here to see additional photos of the students’ hexacopter designs.

This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil)

Carrie Wyman

Carrie Wyman

Carrie is a technology and 3D printing enthusiast, with a passion for beautiful design.

4 comments

  • Excellent project and photos! I guess 3D printing has the future even in drone industry.
    I imagine it took them quite some time to complete this hexacopter. What is it going to be used for though? I think they can make some good photos and videos of the surroundings and make a good commercial for the next projects they might have. Just an idea if anyone from the institute is reading this. Mounting cameras on quadcopter is not that expensive, but good FPV cameras can cost between 50-500$, depending on the quality.

    All in all I congratulate them for the project, it is great to see something like that working in real life. I am sure that those students also gained some useful knowledge during the project.

    • Hi Tom,

      Great suggestion for the WIT team!

      Professor Chomyszak chose the hexacopter as a way to incorporate more students from different majors. Students from the Electromechanical Engineering department specialized in the electronics and students from the Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Design departments had to design the hexacopters taking into account the packaging of the electronics and motors. They were required to build the machines using six different prototyping processes: 3D printing, CNC turning, CNC milling, resin casting, vacuum forming, and laser cutting.

      The designs were not intended to be used for anything at this point as it was the first time that WIT offered this kind of project and they only applied one constraint: it had to fly.

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