Selective Laser Sintering technology has been used by Professors Keane and Scanlan at the University of Southampton, in association with 3T RPD, to develop what is thought to be the world's first 3D-printed aircraft.
Designated the Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft (SULAS), the plane's designers used selective laser sintering to construct the plane in four parts - the main fuselage, rudder fins, the nose cone, and two outer wings - which clip together to form an Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) with a 2 metre wingspan.
Solidworks design drawings created by the SULSA team were passed to 3T's CAD engineers who incorporated the snap fittings to hold the four nylon parts together to form the aircraft.
3T RPD also designed mountings to hold internal components that enable the motor, battery, avionics and controls to be clipped inside the main fuselage, alongside a servo for each wing.
Using selective laser sintering to create hinge features and clips allows them to be fashioned as integral parts to the main components; reducing the need for additional parts and ensuring no screws or mechanical fasteners were needed in the design.
The flexibility of selective laser sintering means complex, lightweight structures can be manufactured as one object, as opposed to being made up of a number of individual parts that would need to be banded together; a benefit essential in SULSA's Geodetic structure and elliptical wing design.
The project was completed in a month, with the first flight taking place on 8th June 2011.
Video: First flight of fully printed aeroplane by Laser Sintering. Courtesy New Scientist