The growth in unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones, is still mainly in the military sector but with the announcement by Amazon.com head Jeff Bezos that deliveries may come from these devices, there is an increasing emphasis on their usage in private applications. To that end, aluminum soldering and other techniques will be necessary to reach their goals.
One person who is at the forefront of this industry is a former magazine editor, Chris Anderson. He told Popular Mechanics recently that the advent of tools commonly the domain of large-scale electronics manufacturer has enabled smaller outfits to achieve similar results, at least early in the prototyping stages. His company takes advantage of the widespread availability of computer-aided drawing and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software to work on projects before they even take form.
Three-dimensional (3D) printing has also helped Anderson and his company 3D Robotics try out new ideas without outsourcing a number of components. He uses injection molding and printing options to flesh out plastic parts for his drones and through the use of cloud-based computing options can get input from engineers and designers throughout the country.
While these tools have enabled many smaller companies to do research and development without needing large factories or outsourcing components, the materials that will help reduce the size of printed circuit boards (PCBs), sensors and other critical parts of UAVs will require specialized alloys and other metals to reduce weight, a critical piece of ensuring that flying vehicles have a reasonable range.
To that end, the use of aluminum soldering materials that join pieces at lower temperatures opens up a variety of design possibilities since there is less risk of cracking or warping when heat is applied to disparate components, such as aluminum and the silicon wafers on which circuits are printed.
For more information about how these new fabrication processes are helping 3D Robotics, visit the interview in Popular Mechanics.