In the last decade, the popularity of rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing has grown exponentially in the construction industry. Since the first 3D-printed homes were built a few years back, the number of innovative projects employing additive manufacturing technology has steadily increased.
BuilDrones (R) 3D print their material during flight, and ScanDrones (L) continuously measure their output for quality control. Image Credit: Imperial College London
One such project, which was developed in collaboration with The Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology (Empa) and Imperial College London, is 3D printing drones. Here, an innovative new technique was developed, combining artificial intelligence (AI), additive manufacturing, and robotics.
3D Printing – Not Just for The Manufacturing Industry
3D printing is an extremely versatile additive manufacturing process. It is considered 'additive' in the sense that it does not require a slab of substance or a mold to create physical things; instead, it effortlessly stacks layers of material on top of each other and then fuses the layers.
This form of additive manufacturing is usually quick, has low setup costs, and can produce more complicated geometries using a variety of substances.
3D printing is widely utilized in the industrial sector, especially for prototype development. In contrast to the construction industry, productivity in the manufacturing sectors has improved significantly over the last decade, owing primarily to the introduction of AI-based robotic systems into the manufacturing setup.
To this end, employing robots and machine learning in conjunction with additive manufacturing technologies has become necessary to achieve improved efficiency within the construction sector.
Bees And Drones Come Together To 3D Print
Scientists and engineers worldwide are working on new ways to advance construction techniques, sometimes using nature as a guide. 3D printing drones is one such technique.
This revolutionary 3D printing technology utilizes flying AI-based robotic systems also known as drones are inspired by nature's builders, such as bees, and similar to bees, work collaboratively to build structures. These drones work almost completely autonomously with little supervision by a human controller who monitors the progress and engages if required based on data supplied by the drones.
The operations of these AI-based robotic systems are best likened to honeybees creating a hive. The drones employ a 3D printing and route-planning framework, giving them the ability to respond to any changes in the geometry of the building in real time.
3D printing with drones
Video Credit: nature video/YouTube.com
Advantages Of 3D Printing Drones
Drones are highly versatile and can perform various tasks with higher efficiency and accuracy when compared to human beings. Drones also provide the benefit of being able to reach places that are unsafe for humans. These factors allow for robotic systems such as drones to save time, cost and also minimize the risk of work-related injuries.
Apart from the time and cost-saving benefits, drones or any robotic system for that matter, allow companies to construct and provide maintenance to structures in high or difficult-to-access regions, revolutionizing the way structures are built today.
The Industrial Applications of 3D Printing Drones
A group of scientists from Empa and the Imperial College of London has created an AI-based robotic drone that employs deep learning methods to construct new structures and repair already-built structures using collaborative construction techniques.
These AI-based drones, or BuilDrones, perform 3D printing while hovering over the target area. This technique of AI-based 3D printing, commonly referred to as aerial additive manufacturing, is a novel technology that utilizes numerous drones together as a fleet to build a structure using a common blueprint.
The specially developed AI-based drones are classified into two types, namely ScanDrones and BuilDrones. The BuilDrones are responsible for the deposition of construction material in-flight, whilst the ScanDrones examine and quantify the output of the BuilDrones to determine their subsequent manufacturing steps.
Challenges Associated with Drones
Drones, like other technologies, are vulnerable to interference in the shape of both spontaneous signal dropouts and deliberate assaults.
Drones and their human controller communicate through radio waves, which deteriorate as the separation between the drone and the controller grows; in some cases, interference in signals can cause a complete signal dropout. This may result in a mission being aborted or, in an extreme case, the drone crashing.
Another concern for drones or any other robotic system is the limited battery storage capacity. Drones, like any other electronic system, are dependent on batteries. These batteries allow them to fly while simultaneously recording and transmitting data. However, many commercially available drones continue to have low battery life, with most commercially available drones having a flying duration of roughly 30 minutes.
One of the most prominent challenges affecting drones is the fact that they are small, which makes them extremely prone to be impacted by bad weather. This may influence the controller's capacity to operate the drone in addition to the drone's ability to work autonomously.
Although some drones are more durable than others, harsh weather conditions may still influence the overall performance and utility of the robotic system.
The scientists and engineers affiliated with these 3D printing drones plan to work with construction companies to validate the solutions and provide extensive repair and manufacturing capabilities to companies worldwide.
The current 3D printing drones are just scratching the surface in the construction industry with their ability being limited to small structures as of now. These drones can revolutionize the construction industry if implemented for large industrial structures.
References and Further Reading
Brogan, C. (2022). 3D printing drones work like bees to build and repair structures while flying. Imperial College London (Online). Available at: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/239973/3d-printing-drones-work-like-bees/
Clemens, M. (2022). Drones That Use 3D Printing for Building Construction and Repair. 3DNatives. Available at: https://www.3dnatives.com/en/drones-use-3d-printing-for-building-construction-and-repair-230920224/
Melling, J. (2021). Assessing the Impact of Drones on the Security Industry. Churchill Support Services. Available at: https://www.churchillsupportservices.com/resources/news-insights/assessing-the-impact-of-drones-on-the-security-industry/