Master’s candidate in the Mechatronics and Robotics Research Group in the School of Engineering, Mr Matt Harcus received the best paper award for his presentation at the 12th Robotics and Mechatronics Conference of South Africa (RobMech) in Cape Town.
Hosted by the University of Cape Town, the two-day event created a platform for academics, researchers and experts in the field of advanced robotics and mechatronics to showcase their research and was an opportunity for young professionals to meet like-minded scientists. A wide range of robotic and automation topics were discussed and the programme included workshops, oral and poster presentations, and identifying areas of importance for further research.
The research Harcus presented incorporated two fast developing technologies: Additive Manufacturing (AM) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). His presentation on Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) for fabrication of a hybrid Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) UAV discussed the development and fabrication of a hybrid VTOL UAV using an AM technique called FDM, a 3D printing process, and highlighted the manufacturing methodology, challenges and potential of such a fabrication. Harcus conducted an experimental investigation to determine a correction factor for the wings, based on several FDM printing parameter variations including layer height, wall thickness and infill percentage. This was sparked by concern over the structural integrity of an FDM printed wing.
Harcus concluded that, with careful selection of critical FDM parameters, the wings’ structural integrity could be maintained during the given flight conditions.
The main feature of his research included the design and fabrication of a UAV prototype named “Triodactyl”, the design of which was simulated using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) to derive results for certain aerodynamic parameters. Using these results, Harcus formulated a Finite Element Analysis (FEA) of the design, which pointed towards a successful design. To verify the results of the analysis, he fabricated the prototype using FDM and tested it, comparing the results for the vehicle’s lift and drag forces with those of the simulations, and producing convincing evidence for a functional prototype.
‘This research demonstrates the capabilities of FDM for printing a functional UAV,’ said Harcus. ‘Given that it is relatively inexpensive and readily available, along with its ability to fabricate complex and intricate parts in rapid time, FDM possesses features that are needed in this fast-growing technological era.’
Harcus aims to develop a method to rapidly manufacture UAVs for the transportation of medical supplies within isolated, often inaccessible rural areas of South Africa. He hopes that the use of these technologies would enable communities’ needs to be met more effectively and efficiently, ultimately saving lives.
Harcus, who completed his Bachelor of Science in Engineering in Mechanical Engineering at UKZN, is passionate about drones, and elected to pursue postgraduate studies in the hope that his skill and passion can help the people of South Africa, and to demonstrate these technologies’ potential to improve quality of life. His research is supervised by Professor Glen Bright and forms part of the Institute for the Development and Dissemination of African Science research programme.
He described his research journey as an exciting and inspiring one. The next phase will involve the optimisation of aerodynamic and propulsion parameters for a hybrid UAV, followed by a fully functional FDM printed prototype.
Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod