Breakthrough TPU enables innovator to better serve hobbyists
In the world of manufacturing, it’s often difficult to make the numbers work when serving a niche market. When your market is a niche of a niche, the challenge becomes even greater. Yet, R3D Shifters is doing just that, successfully catering to the hobbyist sector of the non-commercial drone market. “These aren’t the people who run out and buy a drone right off the shelf,” explains Netanel Bellaishe, company co-founder and lead designer. “These are the folks who want to essentially build their own drone.” To help them do that, R3D Shifters designs and manufactures chassis and parts customers can complete with their own motors, control boards and other largely standardized components. To serve this narrow market efficiently, R3D Shifters relies on MJF 3D printing on the 4200 and the capabilities of the latest TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) technology.
Business could not have taken off with injection molding
It would be possible to make many of R3D Shifters’ products with injection-molded plastic, but with nowhere near the efficiency necessary to be viable. “Simply creating a mold might cost between $50K to $100K, which would require running thousands and thousands of parts to even begin to be economical,” says Angelo Soriano, the other half of the R3D Shifters team and expert drone pilot himself. “The needs of this market change too rapidly for that to make sense,” Soriano continues. “A lot of our business revolves around creating custom mounts for specific cameras, which manufacturers are constantly changing.” By employing a practice Soriano refers to as “take one, make one”, the company can keep inventory extremely low, printing as few as 20, 30, or 40 parts at a time. “We can design and produce for a specific point in time,” says Soriano, “knowing that in 4 months--or even four weeks--we could need a new design.”
This unique model allows R3D Shifters to provide a level of service that’s really quite extraordinary, featuring the capability to offer customers far more than just the most common best-selling parts. “Using traditional manufacturing, you’d be forced to produce only what’s most in demand,” says Soriano. “Drone owners could be totally out of luck if they broke a more obscure part.” The R3D Shifters approach solves that problem.
A material perfectly suited for flying. And crashing.
While 3D printing is the engine powering R3D Shifters, Lubrizol Estane® 3D TPU M95A is the breakthrough fuel boosting its performance. “It’s the ideal material for this application,” according to James Teuber of Re3dTech, the printing service bureau which introduced the new TPU to the R3D Shifters team. “I knew these guys were going to love what this stuff could do,” recounts Teuber.
He was right. The M95A TPU produces prints with characteristics seemingly tailor-made for drone construction, where breakage, weight, and vibration are all challenges to overcome. According to Bellaishe, “M95A TPU delivers all the characteristics a drone designer could ever ask for.”
Durability. Even drones that fly well don’t always crash well. However, this is not a great concern when the drone’s comprised of parts made of M95A. “This material has immense strength—it takes a lot of impact,” says Bellaishe. It’s especially helpful in protecting more valuable and delicate parts, like camera lenses. In fact, Bellaishe claims, “We’ve never had a report of one of our parts breaking that was made from this TPU.”
Light Weighting. Generally speaking, the lighter the drone, the longer it can stay aloft between charges. Designers have found they can create lighter craft because of the precision of M95A prints, enabling parts with thinner walls. Bellaishe says, “With M95A, I can basically design out weight by creating thin-walled structures that are still incredibly tough.”
Vibration Dampening. In many respects, a drone is merely a vehicle for getting a video camera into the air. Thus, the quality of the video it takes is paramount. “Without a mount that dampens vibration,” states Bellaishe, “you can wind up with a picture that looks like it was taken through JELL-O®—completely unusable”. He says the elastomeric quality of mounts made possible with M95A “pass the JELL-O test” with flying colors, creating crisp, rock-steady footage.
Greater agility to meet changing needs.
According to Soriano, “R3D Shifters is the perfect example of a company that’s breaking the mold (pun intended) of how companies are supposed to develop products and grow.” Indeed, it’s a new breed of manufacturing, fulfilling very specific needs at incredibly fast speeds. As an example, “R3D Shifters recently designed, prototyped, fine-tuned, produced and shipped a product within 3 weeks of receiving the order, start to finish,” boasts Bellaishe.
A model of collaboration.
The way in which R3D Shifters and Re3dTech have combined forces to fulfill the needs of custom drone enthusiasts provides an inspiring model for other businesses wishing to leverage the many benefits of 3D printing technology. According to Re3dTech’s Teuber, “Companies can forego the significant expense of acquiring and operating the latest MJF printers by finding a reliable service bureau to bring their designs to life.” He adds, “It actually gives start-ups an easier way to start up.”
Without a doubt, a collaborative, responsive printing partner can help small companies can do big things. “With materials like M95A and partners like Re3dTech, the range of possibilities is suddenly a whole lot broader, claims Bellaishe. “It’s a model entrepreneurial product designers in all sorts of industries should really look into!”
Visit Re3DTech at https://re3dtech.com/
Visit R3D Shifters at https://www.r3dshifters.com/
Picture and Video courtesy of R3D Shifters