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An innovative manufacturing technique could make drones easier to build. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are occupying an ever-growing space in aviation circles. Researchers are constantly looking for new methods of keeping drone manufacturing expenses down while improving overall efficiency.

Suong Hoa from Concordia Institute of Aerospace Design & Innovation in Canada and his student co-authors present a method to make UAV wings cheaper to manufacture and more efficient in flight. Using a technique Hoa pioneered known as 4D printing of composites, the authors performed a feasibility study on the application of a new way to manufacture adaptive compliant trailing edge (ACTE) morphing wings. 

The experimental technology replaces the commonly used hinged wing flap with one that is attached to the main wing body but can bend up to 20 degrees, according to

4D printing is similar to 3D printing except that it changes materials from location to location. The separate material is used because it is reactive to a particular stimulus: water, cold or heat, for instance. Initial printing is done on a flat surface that is then exposed to the stimulus, causing a reaction, and changing the surface shape. The fourth dimension refers to the altered configuration of the once-flat material.

As the authors explain in their paper, their technology allows them to create a section of material with a uniform curvature that is sandwiched in between the wing flap’s upper and lower surfaces. It is flexible and strong enough to support the 20-degree deformation the wing requires for flight maneuverability. “The idea is to have a wing that can change its shape easily during flight, which would be a great benefit as compared to fixed-wing aircraft,” Hoa explains.

The paper was published in the journal Composite Structures.