Introduction: 3D Print and Assemble Your Own Drone

About: The Illinois MakerLab is the world’s first Business School 3D Printing Lab. The Lab was co-founded by Dr. Aric Rindfleisch (Executive Director) and Dr. Vishal Sachdev (Director) and opened in Spring 2013…

This is a template for conducting a workshop to print and assemble a drone with middle school and high school kids.

Step 1: What Will You Make

This instructable is based on a camp that is offered to middle and high school kids, who are interested in learning how to use computer design tools and in understanding the foundation of programming and reverse engineering concepts. After gaining familiarity with these topics, campers create their own radio controlled drone under the guidance of the camp instructors. The process of building drone encompasses a broad set of activities, from brainstorming to designing with demos that visually explain concepts and requires a fair amount of computational thinking.

This instructable can be used a basis for a two day camp, or a five half day summer camp. The description here is for a two day weekend camp. In the longer summer camp version, we conduct a drone race at the end.

The first half of the camp will be spent on teaching new generation computer design tools, namely TinkerCad, and 3D printing tools like Cura and the Ultimaker 3D printers. During the second half of the camp each participant will learn about the parts that go into a drone and principles of flight. They will then be provided a set of electronics such as a remote control, drone controller, battery, motors and a charging cable and will be challenged to develop a drone. Basic understanding of engineering design and assembly will provide a direction for continued learning and campers will be encouraged to explore the topics further on their own. At the end of the weekend, participants will be able to take home their drone.

Step 2: Basic Approach

We use self-study tutorials (Tinkercad) and guided help with lab assistants while running this camp. We buy a drone from the market, as that allows us to get cheap electronics and a radio controller. Campers break down the drone, and create their own frame, customized to their needs and then assemble things back together. This teaches them reverse engineering and keeps costs low.

Step 3: List of Materials

Materials included or reusable from the drone we buy (JJRC H31)

✓ USB Battery charger

✓ Battery

✓ Controller

✓ 4 Propellers w/ Screws

✓ 4 Propeller Guards

✓ 4 AA Batteries

✓ Mini Screwdriver

✓ PCB Board/Flight Board

✓ 2 Clockwise DC Motors and 2 Counter-clockwise DC Motors

✓ 4 Propeller Gears (Attaches to the DC Motors to rotate propellers)

✓ 2 Orange LEDs (Orange & Red wires)

✓ 2 Green LEDs (Green & Red wires)

Other tools and materials

*Soldering Iron/wire

*If the wiring from the PCB Board/Flight Board is not removed, then the soldering iron/wire is not required. However, keep these around in case solder points are broken loose.

Step 4: Workshop Outline

Lesson Plan Outline:

● Go through overview of the workshop/ Learning objectives

● Demonstrate how a drone works/principles of flight - What is Pitch, Roll, & Yaw and how to control them to make it fly.

● Teach 3D printing basics & Cura (

● Introduce TinkerCad as a modelling software( )

● Model with TinkerCad ( and go to Projects -More Projects and have campers do - 'Lets Learn Tinkercad' and 'Introduction to 3d Primitive Shapes" . Have students print out a customized keychain, if you have time. If not, skip to the frames.

● Prototype frames - Have campers draw out their designs and make sure they know what measurements are crucial, such as the separation between propellers.

● Print out prototype frames - Here is an example of what one of our campers made

● Put together the drone pieces. This will require the guidance of the instructor as different designs may require different assembly sequences.

● Soldering (Do not let campers handle soldering material without monitoring them. This can be a dangerous job. Help campers one at a time so that you can intervene immediately when necessary.)

● Troubleshooting

● Presentation

Step 5: Tips and Tricks

General Tips

  • Make sure the Arms are 3D printed solid. they will break easy if not.
  • Consider printing in pieces then screwing parts together in case a large print fails. This will require more guidance.
  • Try to position the battery pack and other parts at a level below centered relative to the propellers as keeping the center of mass low and centered gives the drone an easier time with balancing.
  • Encourage symmetric frame designs as this also helps with balancing.

  • Buy and build one first yourself so you know what is needed, You don't want to learn at the same time as the students.
  • It takes a long time to 3D print all the parts. Consider upfront if you want to pre-print some of the parts (like the base plates) and then the students can personalize the arms and the top plate.

Flying Tips:

  • it is best to practice low to the ground and go slow.
  • Practice going up/down, front/back, side-to-side, and the Yaw (spinning in a circle). While it is tempting to go high & fast, the higher & faster you go the harder you will crash.
  • Get comfortable flying in control first.