3DP Applications

3D printing used to produce ultra-realistic Falcon shaped drones 

Dutch technology firm The Drone Bird Company is leveraging 3D printing technology to aid in the production of its bird shaped drones. The company is utilizing AM technology and expertise from 3D printer manufacturer EOS, Advanced Laser Materials (ALM), a subsidiary of EOS, and AM service provider Parts on Demand. This collaboration has enabled faster delivery time, lower production costs and greater versatility in design.

Using EOS’s Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technology in conjunction with ALM’s PA 640-GSL lightweight carbon materia, the drone body and various cover-flaps can now be 3D printed. Designed to accurately mimic a bird of prey, the Drone Bird is primarily used as a bird control measure, with applications in a number of industries such as agriculture and aviation. 

During an interview with Parts on Demand, Jan-Willem Van den Eijke, CEO at The Drone Bird Company, claimed that AM has enabled the company to “pioneer with materials, shapes and wall thicknesses, for example, because we can change designs much more quickly”. According to Van den Eijkel, this has facilitated faster development with regards to the Drone Bird. “We can respond more quickly to specific questions and applications”, Van den Eijke continued.   

Primary applications of the Drone Bird

Originally designed to support the master thesis topic of Twente student Nico Nijenhuis, the practicality and success of the drone prototype quickly saw it become an established and commercialized product. 

The Drone Bird’s primary application is as a bird control measure within the aviation industry. According to the Federal Aviation Association (FAA), bird strikes and interference reportedly cause up to $500 million each year in damages, with 15,400 strikes occurring in 2021 alone. The realism of the drone’s falcon design makes it particularly effective at deterring wildlife and bird populations from populating airfields. Indeed, it is claimed that, given the realism of the drone, birds react instinctively and without the chance of habituation. As such, the Drone Bird can provide long-term and sustainable bird control measures in the designated location. 

The agriculture industry is another key sector where these drones are used. Each year, birds inflict over €90 million in damages to the Dutch agricultural sector. Thus the ability to deter bird populations, without the chance of habituation, makes this drone especially appealing to those in agriculture. Furthermore, with the option to add a HD camera to the Drone Bird, it is claimed that the drones can also be used to assess livestock, deter predators, and check irrigation systems remotely.   

Images showing the Falcon shaped Drone Bird. Photo via The Drone Bird Company.
Images showing the Falcon shaped Drone Bird. Photos via The Drone Bird Company.

Using AM to Optimize development and production

The Drone Bird was initially handmade with fiberglass and epoxy. However, throughout the drone’s initial building and production, this process became recognisably inefficient and was seen to be driving down profitability. Thus, in order to optimize the production process,  Parts on Demand and ALM collaborated to provide expertise in research and development of AM and Thermoplastic Rapid Prototyping (RP). 

ALM PA 640-GSL, a PA 12-based carbon fiber and glass filled material, is used to produce the 3D printed parts. This material offers high strength and stiffness, high thermal stability, buoyancy, quality sunfish finish and detail, and 10% less material per average build. Thus, the 3D printed components are not only durable enough to withstand adverse weather and environmental conditions, but are also cheaper to manufacture given that they require less material per build. 

By using ALM PA 640-GSL, in combination with the EOS P 396 SLS 3D printer, The Drone Bird Company has been able to accelerate the development phase and produce parts with increased accuracy. Indeed, the speed at which parts can be manufactured and tested has allowed for more rapid prototyping of components. Moreover, having integrated 3D printing into the production process, the company can now consider and test different AM materials. This has enabled the firm to meet new challenges and pursue novel ideations of the product, whilst retaining design freedom in shape, material attributes and wall thickness. 

The EOS P 396 system. Photo via EOS
The EOS P 396 system. Photo via EOS.

3D printed drones

The commercial drone industry is certainly growing, making it a valuable market for AM companies to exploit. For instance, Drone Industry Insights has noted that total drone investment value in the US nearly tripled from $2.4 billion in 2020 to $7 billion in 2021.

In 2021, Dragontech, an agricultural technology startup, began using AM technology to develop a drone-based data gathering platform to help farmers monitor and identify problems in their fields. The company leverages MakerBot 3D printers to design and prototype components, which can be used to attach its system integrations platform to off-the-shelf drones. “We want to be able to take pretty much any kind of sensor and integrate it into a drone, and make it all integrated into a single out-of-the-box platform so anyone can use it”, claimed Dragontech founder Mel Wieting. 

Elsewhere, in 2022, the Royal Air Force (RAF) started development of an aerial attack unit incorporating 3D printed drones. These drones, with fitted munitions, can be deployed as swarms to destroy designated targets. Reportedly costing £4 million, this program also saw the development of a 3D printed twin-blade device called ‘Pizookie’. Sir Mike Wigston, the UK’s current Air Chief Marshal, claims that these 3D printed drones offer “enormous potential” in overwhelming and confusing an enemy’s air defenses.   

Subscribe to the 3D Printing Industry newsletter to ensure you keep up to date with the latest 3D printing news. You can also follow us on Twitter, like our  Facebook page and subscribe to the 3D Printing Industry Youtube channel to access more exclusive content.

Are you interested in working in the additive manufacturing industry? Visit 3D Printing Jobs to view a selection of available roles and kickstart your career.

Featured image shows a close-up of the Falcon shaped Drone Bird. Photo via The Drone Bird Company.