4D composite printing can improve drone wings

The aviation industry faces multiple pressures from rising fuel costs and increased scrutiny of the environmental impacts and quality of life of its aircraft. Researchers are looking for new ways to reduce expenses while improving overall efficiency, and the relatively new market for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – or drones – is no exception.

Drones are becoming increasingly important in aviation circles. In a new article published in the journal Composite worksSuong Hoa and his student co-authors present a method to make drone wings that are cheaper to manufacture and more efficient in flight.

Hoa is a professor of mechanical, industrial and aerospace engineering at the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science. Using a pioneering Hoa technique known as 4D composite printing, the authors conducted a feasibility study on the application of a new way to fabricate adaptive compliant trailing edge (ACTE) morphing wings. The experimental technology replaces the commonly used hinged wing flap with one that is attached to the main wing body but can bend up to 20 degrees.

“Our paper shows that a drone using this type of wing can support a good amount of load for small to medium-sized vehicles,” says Hoa, director of the Concordia Center for Composites.

Use Material Reactions

4D printing is similar to 3D printing, except it changes materials from place to place. The separated material is used because it is reactive to a particular stimulus: water, cold or heat, for example. The initial impression is made on a flat surface which is then exposed to the stimulus, causing a reaction and changing the shape of the surface. The fourth dimension refers to the changed configuration of the once flat material.

Composite 4D printing is more complex. Rather than using a soft, pasty substance commonly used by 3D and 4D printers, it relies on a wiry combination of long, thin filaments held in place by a resin. Each filament is only 10 microns thick, about 1/10th the diameter of a human hair. The composite 4D printer lays out its filament-resin mixture in ultra-thin layers at 90 degree angles to each other. The layers are then compacted together and hardened in a 180˚C oven, then cooled to 0˚C, creating a rigid but not brittle object.

As the authors explain in their paper, this allows them to create a section of material with uniform curvature that is sandwiched between the top and bottom surfaces of the wing flap. It is flexible and strong enough to withstand the 20 degree deformation the wing needs for maneuverability in flight.

“The idea is to have a wing that can easily change shape during flight, which would be a big advantage over fixed-wing aircraft,” says Hoa.

He thinks 4D composite technology has great potential for all kinds of applications. The transportability of its products, he says, is a major draw.

“Because it’s flat, it’s easy to pack it up to send it to remote areas, from the Canadian Far North to outer space.”

Video of Suong Hoa discussing 4D printing of composites: https://youtu.be/j7k-ZjG0qPE

Source of the story:

Material provided by Concordia University. Original written by Patrick Lejtenyi. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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