3D-printed drones work like bees to build and repair structures while in flight

The technology, which has been tested in the lab, could eventually be used for manufacturing and construction in hard-to-reach or dangerous places, such as tall buildings, or to help rebuild after a disaster, the researchers said.

3D printing is gaining momentum in the construction industry. Both on site and in the factory, static and mobile robots print materials for use in construction projects, such as steel and concrete structures.

This new approach to 3D printing, led by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology Imperial and Empa, uses flying robots known as drones that use collective construction techniques inspired by natural builders such as bees and wasps that work together to create large, complex structures.

Collectively known as Aerial Additive Manufacturing (Aerial-AM), the drones in the fleet work collaboratively to a unified plan, adapting their techniques as they go. They are fully autonomous while in flight, but controlled by a human controller who checks progress and intervenes if necessary based on information provided by the drones.

Lead author Professor Kovacs, from Imperial’s Department of Aeronautics and Empa’s Robotics Center for Materials and Technology, said: “We have shown that drones can work autonomously and in tandem to construct and repair buildings, at least in the laboratory. Our solution is scalable and can help us build and renovate buildings in hard-to-reach areas in the future.”

3D geometry printing
Aerial-AM uses both 3D printing and a trajectory planning framework to help drones adapt to changes in structure geometry as construction progresses. The fleet consists of BuilDrones, which store materials while in flight, and quality control ScanDrones, which constantly measure the BuilDrones’ products and inform the next stages of production.

To test the concept, the researchers developed four special cement mixes for drone construction.

Throughout the build, the drones evaluated the printed geometry in real-time and adapted their behavior to ensure they met the build specifications to within five millimeters.

Proof-of-concept prints included a 2.05-meter-tall (72-layer) cylinder of polyurethane-based foam material and an 18-centimeter-tall (28-layer) cylinder of custom-designed structural cement material.

The technology offers future opportunities for building and repairing structures in high or other hard-to-reach places. Researchers will then work with construction companies to test the solutions and provide repair and manufacturing capabilities.

Professor Kovacs said: “We believe our fleet of drones can help reduce the costs and risks of construction in the future compared to traditional manual methods.”

Research Report:Aerial additive manufacturing with multiple autonomous robots

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Space Technology News – Applications and Research

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Porosity of metals obtained by laser melting of powder

Shenzhen, China (SPX), September 12, 2022

Additive manufacturing (AM) technology, also known as 3D printing, is a rising star in the field of manufacturing technology. AM technologies are known for removing the geometric constraints of design and manufacturing products directly from digital models. Materials are “added” during AM processing, making it a distinctive feature that opposes traditional subtractive and formative manufacturing. A variety of materials, including metals, intermetallics, polymers, ceramics and composites, … read on 3D-printed drones work like bees to build and repair structures while in flight

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