Aboard the USS Enterprise – the Star Trek version – Captain Kirk could order up his ham n’ eggs using a “replicator” device. Later on Captan Picard took to ordering “Earl Grey tea, hot.” At the time I thought it was as unlikely a technology as warp drives and transporters.
I was mistaken. Look what the clever dicks at Southampton have been up to:
Engineers at the University of Southampton have designed and flown the world’s first ‘printed’ aircraft, which could revolutionise the economics of aircraft design.
The SULSA (Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft) plane is an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) whose entire structure has been printed, including wings, integral control surfaces and access hatches. It was printed on an EOS EOSINT P730 nylon laser sintering machine, which fabricates plastic or metal objects, building up the item layer by layer.
No fasteners were used and all equipment was attached using ‘snap fit’ techniques so that the entire aircraft can be put together without tools in minutes.
The electric-powered aircraft, with a 2-metres wingspan, has a top speed of nearly 100 miles per hour, but when in cruise mode is almost silent. The aircraft is also equipped with a miniature autopilot developed by Dr Matt Bennett, one of the members of the team.
Laser sintering allows the designer to create shapes and structures that would normally involve costly traditional manufacturing techniques. This technology allows a highly-tailored aircraft to be developed from concept to first flight in days. Using conventional materials and manufacturing techniques, such as composites, this would normally take months. Furthermore, because no tooling is required for manufacture, radical changes to the shape and scale of the aircraft can be made with no extra cost.
Now print me a Mooney!
(H/T to occasional reader Robert for the link)