3D Printed UAV airframe manufactured by engineers at the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Center (AMRC)

While 3D printed guns continue to generate headlines, the 3D printing market for UAVs is rapidly expanding. According to National Defense Magazine, industry insiders attending the annual Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference said many companies have experienced a surge in sales to UAV companies.

“What you’re finding is that the maturity of the process and the advancement of materials is now achieving some recognition [and] legitimacy, and we see a greater degree of adoption,” said Frederick Claus, business development manager for California-based Solid Concepts, a company which recently announced it had produced the world’s first 3D printed metal gun.

Since 2006, Solid Concepts has grown from generating $17 million in annual revenue to $70 million annually. Claus said that roughly $15 million of that is from the aerospace sector, and $3 million comes from parts used in production models of aircraft. As National Defense Magazine reports, sales to the UAV industry comprise roughly one-third of that figure.

“In this industry everyone wants a strength-to-weight ratio where they can make lightweight parts that are strong, so that they can save fuel — which means that they have more flight time, carry more payload [and] stay on station circling for a longer period of time,” Claus said. “So we keep developing our products in that area.”

Claus added that as familiarity with the technology increases, customers have started demanding stronger, tougher and more durable parts.

“There is big money, millions of dollars being poured into this business to start qualifying metal materials for production. But with metals comes a higher-demanding application,” Claus said. “Now you’re talking possibly about structural parts, higher performing parts, higher temperature and more adverse environments.”

Read more: http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org

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