World’s first 3D printed aircraft takes flight

World’s first 3D printed aircraft takes flight
Engineers at the University of Southampton have designed and flown what they claim to be the first ever 3d printed aircraft.

The unmanned air vehicle, dubbed The SULSA (Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft), was printed on an EOS EOSINT P730 nylon laser sintering machine, which fabricates plastic or metal objects, building up the item layer by layer.

The aircraft has a 2m wingspan, a top speed of nearly 100MPH and is said to be almost silent when in cruise mode. Professors Andy Keane and Jim Scanlan, from the University's Computational Engineering and Design Research group, believe it could revolutionise the economics of aircraft design.

"Laser sintering allowed us to create shapes and structures that would normally involve costly traditional manufacturing techniques," said Prof Scanlan. "It allowed us to create a highly tailored aircraft from concept to first flight in days. Using conventional materials and manufacturing techniques, such as composites, this would normally take months."

Prof Kean added that because no tooling was required for manufacture, radical changes to the shape and scale of the aircraft could be made with no extra cost. "The flexibility of the laser sintering process also allowed us to re-visit historical techniques and ideas that would have been prohibitively expensive using conventional manufacturing," he concluded.

Laura Hopperton

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