GUIDES

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything You Need to Know Before You Start

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start
The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

If you decide to make a drone from scratch using 3D print­ing or make relat­ed parts for an already fin­ished quad­copter, then this guide is for you. Read on to learn all about how to make your print­ed com­po­nents fly!

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

Hero 8 print­ed 5″ mini quad (Source: Rob Dav­ey via All3DP)

Unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles (UAVs/UAVs/UAVs), also known as drones, are vehi­cles capa­ble of oper­at­ing autonomous­ly. In oth­er words, a drone is not nec­es­sar­i­ly an air­craft; they can also include cars, boats and even hov­er­craft. How­ev­er, the term is used to refer specif­i­cal­ly to an air­craft that has three or more rotors to pro­vide lift and thrust. They are also com­mon­ly referred to as mul­ti­copters, tri­copters, quad­copters, and so on.

In gen­er­al, UAVs are mechan­i­cal­ly very sim­ple and con­sist of a frame, a flight con­troller, an el. motors, pro­pellers, speed con­trollers and pos­si­bly first per­son view (FPV) equip­ment.

3D print­ing has long been a great drone hob­by. This tech­nol­o­gy allows the user to eas­i­ly pro­duce many dif­fer­ent parts on their own. This can be any­thing from pro­tec­tive bumpers and action cam­era mounts to acces­sories that add func­tion­al­i­ty to the quad.

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

In this arti­cle, we’ll talk about the things to con­sid­er when 3D print­ing drone parts, the most rel­e­vant parts to print, and where to find mod­els and resources. We’ll then wrap things up with a few projects to get you start­ed. But first, let’s fig­ure out why you even need to print parts on a 3D print­er. Read on to find out more!

Advantages

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

Smart­phone hold­er (Source: Dig­it Design and Prints via Face­book)

  • The main advan­tage of 3D print­ed parts is that they can be com­plete­ly cus­tomized. In addi­tion, they are gen­er­al­ly inex­pen­sive (assum­ing you already have a print­er and fil­a­ment (3D print­ing fil­a­ment)), and the design can be quick­ly iter­at­ed from ini­tial to final ver­sion.
  • Print­ed parts can be made from dif­fer­ent mate­ri­als and in dif­fer­ent col­ors. This approach allows the use of a mate­r­i­al with bet­ter mechan­i­cal prop­er­ties for spe­cif­ic ele­ments. For exam­ple, your GoPro mount might be blue TPU with nylon prop guards. Cam­era hold­ers are best print­ed with TPU (Ther­mo­plas­tic Polyurethane; TPU) as this mate­r­i­al absorbs vibra­tion from the frame and holds the GoPro tight­ly in place, while the durable nylon can absorb shock and pro­tect both the pro­pellers and the object/obstacle itself. Oth­er durable mate­ri­als such as rein­forced nylon can even be used to cre­ate glid­ers, awnings and cam­era hang­ers.
  • Anoth­er plus when using print­ed parts is their rel­a­tive­ly low den­si­ty. With 3D print­ing, para­me­ters such as the num­ber of perime­ters and infill per­cent­age can be adjust­ed to sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduce weight, with the for­mer more pre­de­ter­mined in the final result.

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

This pho­to shows the sequence of mak­ing a canupi for an FPV drone (Source: Rob Dav­ey via All3DP)

  • While the man­u­fac­tured parts are ful­ly cus­tomiz­able and light­weight, they can be quick­ly iter­at­ed. For exam­ple, when design­ing a canupi, the first draft of the blank can be print­ed from an inex­pen­sive mate­r­i­al such as PLA, and after the fit­ting process, all required changes can be eas­i­ly made into the next iter­a­tion. Once the mod­el is con­sid­ered com­plete, it can be print­ed in more expen­sive mate­r­i­al such as car­bon fiber, nylon, or even, if bud­get allows, PEEK car­bon fiber.
  • In addi­tion, if you have a print­er and fil­a­ment, the prob­lem of a bro­ken part becomes irrel­e­vant, since you can start cre­at­ing a new one right away. Even though many retail­ers offer fast ship­ping, it’s always best to print the part your­self.

Considerations

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

Do you need all these com­po­nents? (Source: Rob Dav­ey via All3DP)

While 3D print­ing opens up a whole new world of pos­si­bil­i­ties in terms of addi­tion­al fea­tures, the most impor­tant thing to keep in mind is the weight of your air­craft. Not every­thing that can be print­ed and installed is use­ful! It should be under­stood that every gram of a drone affects the flight time and flight char­ac­ter­is­tics, espe­cial­ly for rotor­craft. In oth­er words, on a UAV whose pri­ma­ry pur­pose is long flight, the pres­ence of com­po­nents such as a GoPro mount, a head track­er, and a reset mech­a­nism is not nec­es­sary.

You may also notice that big com­pa­nies like DJI that sell UAVs and sim­i­lar air­craft usu­al­ly offer the nec­es­sary mounts and acces­sories; they are all print­ed, but their num­ber is as lim­it­ed as pos­si­ble, because they sim­ply add weight.

In addi­tion, in many coun­tries, includ­ing the World, the rules require reg­is­tra­tion of mod­els weigh­ing more than 250 grams. Accord­ing­ly, the demand for quad­copters weigh­ing below this lim­it is much high­er.

The best materials

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

Beam shield, GoPro mount and anten­na mount all print­ed in TPU (Source: Dig­it Design and prints via Face­book)

The most com­mon­ly used mate­r­i­al for the man­u­fac­ture of quad­copters (espe­cial­ly rel­e­vant for mini nich­es) is TPU. This is because it is high­ly flex­i­ble and can deform on impact, absorb­ing ener­gy and pro­tect­ing impor­tant UAV com­po­nents. Due to its flex­i­bil­i­ty, it can also absorb vibra­tion, reduc­ing vis­i­ble arti­facts in record­ed video. For­tu­nate­ly, this has become less of an issue with the intro­duc­tion of in-cam­era sta­bi­liza­tion. Anoth­er suit­able mate­r­i­al is nylon. It is stiffer than TPU, but still has some flex­i­bil­i­ty.

Applicability of materials

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

The main parts print­ed on TPU are bumpers, cam­era mounts, anten­na mounts and pro­peller guards. Nylon can also be used to pro­tect props, but is less com­mon because it is hard­er to print.

Although TPU and nylon are ver­sa­tile, they are not suit­able for all parts. Where more rigid­i­ty and strength are required, such as in the man­u­fac­ture of glid­ers, car­bon-fiber-rein­forced nylon (CFRPA6) is rec­om­mend­ed. This approach will pro­vide the ben­e­fits of stan­dard nylon, cou­pled with the rigid­i­ty of car­bon fiber. It’s also eas­i­er to print on than reg­u­lar nylon because it warps less and sticks bet­ter to the 3D print­er’s build plate.

One way to pro­tect the under­side of the boat’s frame, as well as the motor mount­ing bolts, is to add 3D print­ed “stands or land­ing pads”. They are espe­cial­ly use­ful when fly­ing over con­crete sur­faces. The ide­al mate­r­i­al for this is CFRPA6. You can also print them in TPU, but the abra­sion resis­tance won’t be as good.

Variety of parts

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

5″ rac­ing quad­copter with tan­dem fin with tur­tle or tur­tle mode (Source: Rob Dav­ey via All3DP)

Fins

If rac­ing drones are your hob­by, then you should try using a fin. This com­po­nent is espe­cial­ly rel­e­vant in tan­dem with the mode known as “tur­tle or tur­tle”. When the drone is flipped upside down, thanks to the fin, the two motors free from con­tact with the sur­face will be able to rotate freely, which will sub­se­quent­ly allow you to quick­ly flip the quad and con­tin­ue the race. They are most often print­ed in TPU and some­times in nylon.

Antenna mount

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

FPV trans­mit­ter anten­na hold­er print­ed in TPU (Source: rap­nit via Thin­gi­verse)

If you are fly­ing in FPV mode, VTX anten­nas are vital. Thus, there are many mount­ing options for such com­po­nents. If the device is intend­ed for flights over long dis­tances, then enclos­ing the active part of the anten­na in a TPU is not a good idea, as this will adverse­ly affect the video sig­nal. For them, TPU is the pre­ferred choice because it is very elas­tic and can deform with­out break­ing for a long time.

It is also pos­si­ble to enable head track­ing in FPV mode, when the FPV cam­era is mount­ed in a motor­ized dri­ve, allow­ing it to move in two or three dimen­sions accord­ing to your FPV gog­gles. Thus, the cam­era copies the move­ments of your head, con­tribut­ing to greater immer­sion. For this, inflex­i­ble mate­ri­als such as PETG, ABS, ASA or even PC should be used. Rigid­i­ty is need­ed to elim­i­nate play in the com­po­nents.

Functional Components

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

The 2‑axis gim­bal (to sta­bi­lize the cam­era) was print­ed in PLA (Source: tur­bi via Thin­gi­verse).

If FPV fly­ing or rac­ing isn’t your thing, you can always print the parts to expand the func­tion­al­i­ty. Maybe it’s a cam­era sta­bi­liz­er for aer­i­al pho­tog­ra­phy or video shoot­ing, or a mech­a­nism for grab­bing and drop­ping objects? For a gim­bal, the mov­ing parts must be print­ed on a non-flex­i­ble mate­r­i­al to elim­i­nate play.
When installing the sta­bi­liz­er on the drone, there must be a flex­i­ble part between it and the gim­bal that iso­lates it from vibra­tion.

Protection

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

This stick guard was designed in Fusion 360 (Source: Motor­pix­iegim­bals via Thin­gi­verse)

Final­ly, anoth­er good option for print­ing are parts to pro­tect items, such as the con­trol sticks of a remote con­trol. They can be either flex­i­ble or non-flex­i­ble, depend­ing on your pref­er­ence.

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

Model Sources

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

Search results for “Drones” on Grab­CAD (Source: Grab­CAD)

  1. Thingiverse

    is a great free resource for find­ing mounts for pub­lic cam­eras (GoPro, Ins­ta 360, etc.) and frames (TBS Source One, ImpulseRC, Iflight, etc.).

  2. GrabCAD

    is anoth­er pop­u­lar free resource that tends to offer more engi­neer­ing mod­els, how­ev­er there are still mod­els relat­ed to quad­copters on the list. Please note that you will need an account to upload mod­els (remark­ably for Thin­gi­verse this is not nec­es­sary).
    If you down­load mod­els from any repos­i­to­ries (includ­ing the web­sites list­ed above), be sure to check the license under which they are locat­ed so that they do not infringe copy­right when sell­ing.

  • If you hap­pen to have a spe­cif­ic frame or cam­era, remem­ber that the man­u­fac­tur­er of those com­po­nents often has design data avail­able for down­load and print­ing. In this case, this approach will be most use­ful, because the like­li­hood that the part will match yours may be high­er than if you use the data of a third-par­ty web­site.
  • If you can’t find what you need any­where, you can design your own parts in CAD soft­ware or have some­one else design them for you.

Resources

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

This site has an active user base and lots of help­ful dis­cus­sions (Source: DIY­Drones)

While many of the indi­vid­ual com­po­nents can be down­loaded from the sites list­ed above, there are also addi­tion­al resources such as forums. The main forums for drone man­u­fac­tur­ers are DIY­Drones and RCGroups. A com­plete list of print­able glid­ers on RCgroups can be found in one help­ful thread, or sim­i­lar list­ings can be found on DIY­Drones. In addi­tion, there is a sub­red­dit for drones that dis­cuss­es 3D print­ing top­ics, as well as a sub­red­dit for do-it-your­self drones.

Projects to help you get started

The Basics of 3D Printing Drone Parts. Everything you need to know before you start

Canupi mod­el with cus­tom mold­ed GoPro hold­er (Source: bas­delfos via Thin­gi­verse).

The only real lim­it to what you can print is your imag­i­na­tion! Before pro­ceed­ing, it will be nec­es­sary to take into account the intend­ed pur­pose of both the drone and the part, as well as the impact of any addi­tion­al weight.

Here are some ideas from Thin­gi­verse for print­ing, whether it’s a whole quad­copter or just parts of it:

  1. Quadcopter:

    a fam­i­ly of frames that can be ful­ly 3D print­ed (dozens of ver­sions and vari­a­tions)

  2. Stick protection:

    Pro­tects con­trol sticks dur­ing trans­port

  3. Kanupi for FPV Drone:

    an exam­ple of a kanupi, with a mold­ed GoPro hold­er (pic­tured above)

That’s all we have. Thank you for your atten­tion. We hope the pre­sent­ed mate­r­i­al was use­ful to you. Stay with us!

Video

A visu­al process of print­ing beams for an FPV drone made of car­bon fiber rein­forced nylon (CFRPA6).

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