Sky Wolf Solutions is combining the material advantages and design flexibility of powder-bed 3D-printed Nylon PA12 to create strong, lightweight, reliable parts for its drones. The parts are made by TriMech, which offers advanced manufacturing services and sells and supports a variety of 3D printing technologies.
Sky Wolf designs specialized, custom drones and provides security and surveillance services for large venues and special events. Across both military and civilian unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) communities, company founder Ryan Jarvis is known for his unique expertise and innovative work.
He explained that almost everyone who works for Sky Wolf is a U.S. special ops veteran.
“We bring that high level of precision to civilian security and protection. Our team has more than 20 years of experience in fields that include tactical communication, law enforcement, executive protection, and custom fabrication and payload integration.”
Doing a critical job in tough conditions
Sky Wolf drones provide extra eyes and lines of sight for first responders and security agencies by flying over large events, where terrorist threats are real and scary. The continuous aerial surveillance helps to keep everyone safe when massive crowds gather.
Examples include music festivals, concerts, and sporting events. Sky Wolf and business partner Crowd Cover flew specialized tethered drones to support Montana’s popular Brawl in the Wild, which attracts 100,000 people to the area for a battle between rival college football teams.
The weather can be fierce and change quickly. At one Brawl in the Wild, the temperature was -15°F and the equipment spent nine hours up in the wind and ice. The next day, that same drone might be used in the extreme heat of Arizona or face the dampness of a coastal town. Sky Wolf drones have to stand up to a variety of harsh elements in order to perform their critical job.
That’s one of the reasons Ryan began investigating the additive manufacturing material Nylon PA12 (polyamide) thermoplastic. A business contact pointed Ryan to TriMech’s advanced manufacturing services team, who gave Ryan a bunch of sample parts. As Ryan began investigating Nylon PA12 for his unique application, he did not hold back on his testing.
“I froze and thawed those parts 10 times,” he said. “I left parts outside in different conditions. I even gave them to a toddler to play with. When we have a prototype, we crash it on purpose. The 3D-printed Nylon PA12 material remains true to form.”
Built for toughness
Nylon PA12 is known for its impressive ability to resist shape change without cracking – it bends without breaking. One of Ryan’s sample pieces had fine teeth. Despite his rigorous tests, the sharpness of the teeth never wore away.
“Tabs remain intact,” he said. “Parts slide and snap as they should. After tightening and loosening screws hundreds of times, I haven’t found the wear point yet.”
Sky Wolf uses the 3D-printed parts as upper and lower canopies, housing the drone’s vital components, such as the battery box and motor pods. Accuracy is key and TriMech’s services team produced perfect parts, exactly as designed in CAD.
“With our intricate designs, exactness is what we need,” Ryan said. “The attachment points for the nuts are perfect.”
Another property that piqued Ryan’s interest was the lack of metal in the material. With no metallic flakes, Nylon PA12 doesn’t interfere with essential wireless communications that take place between the drone and ground operations.
And even without metal properties, the material is so strong that Ryan noted there is no need to use brass inserts for additional strength, a step often required when using other manufacturing processes.
TriMech offers a variety of technology options
For client projects requiring Nylon PA12, the TriMech services team will select one of their powder bed fusion 3D printing processes, which produce nearly isotropic parts. Ryan has been to one of TriMech’s advanced manufacturing centers to see the equipment and meet some of the team members. He noted that he has appreciated their high level of customer service.
“They are quick to respond to emails and my parts are ready in just one week. And now that we’ve validated our design and material choice in real world conditions, we’re moving from prototyping to production. I’m submitting an order to TriMech to produce end use parts to outfit five new custom drones.”
Ryan travels far and wide to provide training and to speak to drone industry colleagues. He is now travelling with drones that have 3D-printed parts.
“I have built equipment using every kind of material and for very discerning customers in the government and military. 3D-printed Nylon PA12 is my favorite material.”