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Additive Manufacturing down south

30 November 2016 ...

In 2011 we made aviation history when we partnered with Southampton University to manufacture the world’s first 3D printed UAV.

This pilotless aircraft, called SULSA, – The Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft – was designed to act as a testbed for the potential of 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing in the aircraft industry. You can read the full story of SULSA’s development here . Five years on, SULSA is still in use, which in itself shows the inherent strength of the Additive Manufacturing (AM) process used to make her, and she has been globe-trotting courtesy of the British Royal Navy.

The Navy are currently looking at the potential of UAVs in order to test both their surveillance and maritime coordination capabilities. SULSA was tested both in the benign seascape off Chesil Beach, Dorset and also the more challenging environments of the Antarctic on board the Royal Navy’s Antarctic Patrol Vessel, HMS Protector.

In Antarctica

Chesil Beach

(Coincidentally, SULSA’s embarkation on HMS Protector was of such interest that the AM aircraft warranted an entry in Wikipedia)

In both cases the University of Southampton posted video taken of SULSA’s launch and recovery which we have posted below.

The videos show SULSA being launched and then put through her paces by the Navy’s operator. The videos show SULSA surveying the sea, land and icebergs that surround its mothership and at one point, the Antarctic video, shows SULSA also becoming the world’s first AM sea-plane. From the videos it quickly becomes clear that there is a huge potential of ship-borne UAVs to cost-effectively expand a vessel’s horizon and it is claimed that the total cost of SULSA’s AM production is only the equivalent of a Royal Navy helicopter being operated for an hour[1].

Scroll forward to today from 2011 when we 3D printed SULSA, we are now an established AM production supplier within the aviation industry. 3T RPD is AS 9100 certified and working with companies like BAE Systems and other aircraft companies to manufacture parts that are already in the air on military aircraft, civilian aircraft and in space. We believe that the market for AM production in aviation will only grow and with our pedigree and expertise in the market we look forward to the next exotic location that AM parts made by us will appear.



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