Among the newest generations of products, drones are arguably those that best embody the concept of innovation. Not only for their technical characteristics, but also for the cutting-edge technologies used to develop and build them. As a manufacturing process, 3D printing is increasingly used within the drone production cycle, mainly for prototyping. Italdron, an Italian company specializing in the design and production of innovative commercial drones, has been using 3D printing since 2014 and has further raised the bar by collaborating with WASP for the production of its latest, futuristic models. This latest application case clearly demonstrates how the right AM technology is now mature enough to ensure reliable final components and, at the same time, significantly reduce development times and costs.
Italdron was founded by three young entrepreneurs aiming to develop a service market using drones. Born from an innovative idea, the company has grown into the manufacturer with the highest number of Remote Piloted Aircraft (APR) authorized for flight by ENAC (the Italian National Civil Aviation Authority), as well as the first Italian manufacturer of professional drones to be licensed for “post-production flights”.
WASP, for its part, is a leading company in the 3D printing industry founded by Massimo Moretti in 2012. The company is well known globally for its highly versatile DeltaWASP 3D printers—which can easily be adapted to all production needs, from small to large—and a line of products entirely dedicated to the Industry 4.0 framework. The company’s stated goal is to provide real benefits to mankind through technological innovation and research.
Can it fly?
For its drone development and production needs, Italdron decided to turn to WASP’s 3D printing systems, integrating them within the production process. The relationship between WASP and Italdron has been going on for years, first with rapid prototyping and then gradually moving towards production of final components.
“We use WASP printers for different sectors: from production of mechanical tools, such as forklift hooks, to the creation of particular molds used to produce the drone body,” explained Marco Solfrini, Italdron’s design engineer. “We often work on customized vehicles. In most cases, in fact, the basic drone remains the same, but it needs to be customized to meet the customer’s specific needs. WASP 3D printers are key for us given their precision and the significant printing height they can achieve.”
Italdron currently has three WASP printers, two Delta WASP 2040 and a latest-generation Delta WASP 2040 Industrial 4.0 optimized for printing technical materials. The printers of the Industrial 4.0 line can be networked and therefore managed directly from any mobile phone, tablet or laptop.
An innovative chamber system controlled up to 80 °C, with “Hot and Cold Technology” mechanical cooling, allows for optimal printing of advanced polymers and composites. A camera inside the printer is used to monitor the print progress remotely. Thanks to these innovations, the printers can work 24 hours a day, producing both prototypes for testing and flying drone components, allowing the Italdron team to be able to evaluate their functionality and to detect any mechanical issue. In this way, the team can have tangible feedback on the project in extremely short times. The Delta WASP printers are able to print 24 hours a day because of their very robust mechanics, making them virtually indestructible.
Benefits of AM integration
“WASP 3D printing technology enabled us to speed up the production process and reduce costs,” continues Solfrini. “In addition, they supported us in every way. When you turn to WASP, you can count on an efficient customer support service. They help you at every stage, you can exchange ideas and develop new solutions. This relationship has greatly facilitated the introduction of this technology into our production cycle in a stable way.”
Currently, all the caps—which form the drone’s hull—are 3D printed using Carbon Nylon filaments and are installed on the final models. The choice of using Carbon Nylon as the main material for parts is tied to its excellent ratio of flexibility and resistance, even at high temperatures. The latter, in particular, is fundamental to ensure that every Italdron drone can operate efficiently in the open air, where it is subjected to the most diverse climatic conditions.
Solfrini also emphasized how current AM technologies can provide a real added value for industrial production, and are destined to find more and more space in this area: “3D printing represents one of the key production tools of the future on an industrial level,” he says. “It is destined to play a more dominant role in production processes by integrating perfectly with technologies such as CNC and other machine tools. In our case, it is a fundamental step: our drones, in fact, are assembled by combining pieces made of carbon, aluminum and 3D printed Carbon Nylon. This allows us to significantly reduce the weight of the vehicle, without sacrificing efficiency and robustness.”
The collaboration between Italdron and WASP is not only a perfect example of “Made in Italy” innovation, but a strong demonstration of how the AM solutions offered by the Massa Lombarda company are now true technological enablers, which can help to address critical issues and improve traditional production process.