Over the years, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) missions have transitioned from sole use in defense applications to a wider range of applications, including commercial and leisure consumer use. As the technology of unmanned vehicles has advanced, the need for more lightweight and durable materials has grown. This need stems largely from the increasing number of internal components that optimize these vehicles’ performance, adding to their structural weight.
To meet today’s requirements for unmanned vehicles, many of these devices rely on composite materials that help reduce their weight while maintaining their structural integrity. Military and civilian missions of all types use UAVs to accomplish all types of tasks, and composite materials facilitate them.
Most contemporary unmanned vehicle designs use composite materials because of their superior durability and mechanical properties, allowing for increased ease of maintenance and manufacturing. At the same time, they don’t add unnecessary weight to unmanned vehicles, keeping the bulk of the energy to carry useful payloads.
Composite materials consist of two or more different materials with varying chemical and physical properties. This combination enhances certain properties of each or unlocks entirely new characteristics not seen with either material alone. In turn, the materials offer advantages that you won’t find with each material on its own.
Unmanned military, commercial, and consumer UAVs use composites to excel in missions of all kinds. The following are some of the main benefits of using composites.
One of the main benefits of using composite materials for UAVs is their high stiffness-to-weight ratio which keeps these devices lightweight without sacrificing flight performance. For example, many unmanned vehicles will benefit from using a carbon fiber-reinforced polymer that offers the same stiffness as aluminum, without the accompanying weight. This lighter weight allows for improved overall performance (range, payload) without any compromise in power, ultimately optimizing efficiency.
Depending on the level of use of composite materials, they can reduce a device’s weight by anywhere from 15% to 45%.
Compared to other popular materials like aluminum, composites feature higher strength and extremely high fatigue resistance. As such, these materials can handle repeated loading and mitigate other potential issues that could otherwise impact UAVs when exposed to harsh conditions or high loads.
Another advantage of composite materials is their orthotopic nature, meaning their elastic properties have two to three perpendicular planes. This structure makes it easier to tailor composite materials to each application based on unique strength and weight needs.
Composite materials also offer the benefit of increased corrosion resistance. Unlike metal materials that can corrode and rust over time, composite polymers withstand weathering and corrosion to maximize the longevity of UAV materials in nearly any environment.
Certain types of composite materials offer superior electrical insulation and conductivity to protect electronic components. It’s also possible to add various features to these materials to increase electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding, such as rubber gaskets and metallic coatings.
While composite materials are becoming increasingly popular for use in UAVs because of their lightweight structure and consistent durability, there are some challenges that come with these materials. These may include the following:
Some companies may be reluctant to use composite materials because of their higher costs compared to metals and other materials. Not only are the raw material costs higher, but they’re also more expensive to both produce and repair. However, with these expenses comes increased reliability and performance, which can pay for themselves in this highly competitive market.
Manufacturers of UAVs may also need to accommodate slower production rates than they would see with other materials. Composite materials require a highly specialized manufacturing process and often rely on human touch labor and extended cure cycles. Fortunately, recent advancements in composites production technologies such as compression molding have made them faster to produce.
Supply chain disruptions have affected many industries, and the composites industry is no exception. This industry has seen supply chain shortages that have made it more difficult to secure a reliable supplier base for manufacturers. Over time, this may change as supply chains continue to restore their talent and resources.
In the upcoming years, the unmanned composites market will continue to expand at a CAGR of 16.3%, with the market value projected to reach $4.71 billion by 2029. Combined with the rise of the UAV market, composite materials will become even more popular for all applications. If you require high-quality composite equipment for your applications, Aerodine Composites is here for you.
Based on our client’s needs, we provide custom composite material solutions, including UAV components and assemblies. In the process, we apply years of collective expertise and experience in composite material science, technology, and processes to provide some of the best achievable results.
Searching for a trustworthy and reliable manufacturer and supplier of composite materials for your UAVs or other products? Get in touch with the experts at Aerodine Composites today. You’ll gain access to some of the best solutions to design and manufacture high-performance composite structures.