Introduction: DIY 3d Printed Modular Drone
Hi all, and welcome to my very first instructable.
I have always loved rc, and in recent years I have developed my own projects, generally from scratch, including a boat, cars and a plane (which flew all of two seconds!). I have always had a special connection to drones, so I decided one winter holiday to make a drone, from scratch, with no plans and little experience.
Fast forward two years (on and off) and I have just finished, after rebuilding it completely two or three times. One of the main goals was repairability and reliability, combined with the limitation of my 3d printer size, only 140mm each way, it became made up of many individual modules, so I could take of broken parts and put on repaired parts with out having to reprint the entire thing, as well as greatly increasing the size due to a drone nearly 4 times as big as a solid drone could be
So here it is. The 3d printed modular drone. About ten minute flight time, relatively fast, although I don’t have the tools to measure precise speed and quite a joy to fly, especially with the knowledge that you made it from scratch.
Warning: I do not include instructions for soldering (of which there will be a lot of). This is not recommended for brand new solderers. Soldering ability is the only knowledge prerequisite of this instructable.
Step 1: Tools
This is primarily 3d printed so a 3d printer is a requirement unless you have a good local makerspace you can spend many hours printing at.
I definitely would recommend buying a 3d printer if you don’t have one, I use mine for everything. It’s a Flashforge Finder currently retailing for under $400, and its brilliant when it works, but can have problems.
You’ll also need:
A soldering iron
An assortment of smallish allen keys and/or screwdrivers and spanners, depending on the bolts you choose.
Assorted drill bits
Needle nose pliers
3x alligator clips for testing
Multimeter, not required, used for testing
Servo tester, not required, used for testing motors. If you don’t have one just connect up the servo wire with the receiver and power up the receiver and transmitter
Step 2: Materials
For the drone you will need:
300-500 grams of filament any colour
Gaffer tape, assorted colours
Strong twine or string
BOLTS AND NUTS
14x 20*5 mm bolts or imperial equivalent
8x 30*3mm bolts or imperial equivalent
4x 20*3mm bolts or imperial equivalent
4x 16*5mm bolts or imperial equivalent
Nuts for all your bolts
Bolts for your motors
8x 3mm knurled nuts(knurls)
5x xt60 plug pair
1x power distribution board (PDB) - https://hobbyking.com/en_us/matek-fchub-a5-2-6s-with-184a-current-sensor-and-5v-2a-bec.html?___store=en_us
1x flight controller (FC) - https://hobbyking.com/en_us/skyline32-advanced-flight-controller-w-baseflight-cleanflight.html
4x 2-4s 30 amp brushless drone, no BEC, electronic speed controller’s (ESC’s) - https://hobbyking.com/en_us/blheli-s-30a.html
4x 2600kv motors with 19mm by 16mm mounting holes - https://www.aliexpress.com/item/32791600386.html
4x 3 bullet plug extension, 150 mm, colour co-ordinated - https://hobbyking.com/en_us/3-5mm-male-female-bullet-brushless-motor-extension-lead-100mm-2.html
3x 20 amp brushed ESC’s - https://hobbyking.com/en_us/blheli-s-30a.html
1x 4s battery - https://hobbyking.com/en_us/turnigy-nano-tech-1800mah-4s-35-70c-lipo-pack.html
3x alligator clips
Step 3: Let’s Get Printing
For the drone you will need to print:
2x Battery mount
8x plate - If you can I recommend laser cutting this out of 3mm acrylic.
4x leg- I recommend printing upside down, with supports.
1x Prop Pusher
Step 4: Electronics Time: Part 0 - Breakdown
This is a drone. And as such it needs a lot of electronic components. These all need soldering, and careful layout to ensure good wire management . Be prepared to spend up to an hour planning out and soldering your parts together. A very useful tip for new solder’s is to set up a small fan to blow solder smoke out of the way, it will make your life much more pleasant, and you may be able to smell after a long soldering session.
There is a lot of electronics to be done, so I have broken it down into a couple of parts.
Part 1 will be preparing and marking plugs.
Part 2 will be soldering the plugs to the ESC and PDB
Part 3 will be motor and ESC direction
Part 4 will be motor and ESC soldering
Part 5 will be getting the FC and PDB all soldered up
Part 6 will be putting everything together. This will be a lot later than the rest of the electronics
Step 5: Electronics Time: Part 1 - Preparing Plugs
First you’ll want to lay out the body and bolt the PDB down, just temporarily. Next work out which motors the FC has where. write on the body which corners correspond to which number motor. Then place the xt60 plug pair in the body between the corner of the arm and the solder point on the PDB.
Before you continue on mark the plug pair with the corresponding number on the body. This will make your life easier later on, when you have to place all the ESC’s in, as well as if you need to unplug your ESC’s and plug them back in at a later date.
Repeat with the other 3 plug pairs.
Step 6: Electronics Time: Part 2 - Plugs + ESC + PDB
Get plug pair 1 and place it in its correct corner. Then place an arm flush with the base and an ESC in the centre of the arm with the power cords and servo plug facing the main body.
Measure the wires from the ESC to the plug, and cut the with a touch excess of only a few millimetres, plugs can have more inside than you expect but there isn’t that much space inside there. Then measure and cut to size the wires that you just cut off to go between the PDB and the xt60 plug.
Step 7: Electronics Time: Part 3 - Motor + ESC Orientation
This is a hard part, because you have to ensure that the motors are spinning the right way. Motors are designed to spin one way, to keep the nuts on the shaft, but it’s not always obvious.
The motors I got have chevrons putting the way they spin, but the most reliable method is looking at the bolt thread. Place the nut halfway down the threaded shaft then spin the motor while holding the bolt. If the nut comes off, the motor goes the other way, if it tightens then the motor goes that way. Mark the motors with coloured tape and write down a key. Then remove the nut from the threaded shaft. Repeat for the other three motors.
Once you know the direction of the motors, look at the motor layout diagram for the FC and match up the motor direction to the correct ESC number.
Next we have to identify the connections between the motor and the ESC. Stripe the wires on the motor and ESC. Then randomly connect up the wires between the ESC and the motor. It doesn’t matter what the order is, because if it’s wrong we will fix it. Next connect the servo wire to your servo tester (if you have it) or receiver. Finally plug the ESC into either a bench-top power supply or your battery. Carefully spin up the motor, just enough to work out which way it’s going then stop it and unplug the ESC from the power supply or battery.
If the motor was going the correct direction, use coloured tape to mark the connections then remove the alligator clips. If the motor was not going the right way, switch any two alligator clips on the motor side. This will actually reverse the direction of the motor. If you want to power it back up and double check. Then mark with coloured tape. Then repeat this with the other 3 motors and ESCs.
Step 8: Electronics Time: Part 4 - Motor + ESC
Just a short step here, finally. Grab your bullet plug extensions and cut them in half. One side will go on the motors, one side will go on the ESCs. This will allow easy replacement of ESCs and/or motors. Solder your bullet plugs onto the motors and ESCs, ensuring colour co-ordination. Choose one of your colours of bullet plugs and put red heat shrink on it if the motor is clockwise rotating, and black heat shrink on if the motor is counter clockwise rotating. This is just another marker to help you identify the motors.
Step 9: Electronics Time: Part 5 - FC + PDB
Let's go for an easy one, solder the plug for the battery onto the PDB. The plugs I used came with the wires pre-attached but you may have to solder on your own wires.
Find a five volt pad on the PDB and solder that to the input power for the FC.
Find a VBat pad on the PDB and solder that to the battery monitor on the FC.
Find the first motor servo plug from the FC, this will be the one with positive and negative, not just signal. Cut the positive and negative at the plug, as they would have powered the FC from the ESC BEC, but BEC’s are big and heavy, and we don’t need four, and the PDB has it’s own, so we’ll just use that. Find another 5v pad on the PDB and solder the wires to that.
Step 10: WE HAVE ARMS!! WITH MOTORS!!
In this step we are doing a major looking, although kind of simple part of the drone, bolting the arms on.
First run the ESC wire through the hole in the arm and the body, ensuring that the plug is in the correct location to meet up with the PDB plugs, so that the ESC is inside the arm, while the xt60 plug is in the body. Grab the plates and the 30*3 mm bolts. Place one plate on top of the arm, and one below, then bolt them on.
Take the leg and use the 16*3mm bolts to bolt on the legs.
Now the motor. Flip the drone over, and line up the motors, then bolt them on to the arm through the holes. Leave the ESC’s free for now.
Repeat for the other three arms.
Step 11: Battery Mounting Preparation
We need to put the knurls into the body so we can put the battery mounts on. Get your soldering iron and heat it up to 380 degrees celsius, lower temperatures should work if you can’t reach 380. Use needle nose pliers to hold the knurls against the holes on the side of the body. Then push them on with the soldering iron. This heats them up, which heats the plastic, which then cools and reforms around them, locking them in place.
Use hot glue (or plastic glue if you have it) to glue the spacer on to the bottom of the body. Ensure that the interior rectangle is centred around the holes in the centre of the body.
Step 12: Electronics Time: Part 6 - FINAL ASSEMBLY
Plug the xt60’s together. Bolt the FC and PDB onto the body with the arrow facing towards the indentation for the reciever.
Plug all the attachments to the FC into the FC. Plug the input servo wires from the FC into the receiver. Plug the FC’s output servo wires into the correspondingly numbered ESC input wires.
Step 13: Central Assembly
First get the FC and the PDB. Put the bolts that came with the PDB through the inside holes on the PDB, then put 3 mm knurls on the ends, and tighten them up to the PDB.
Put the 20*3 mm through the holes on the FC, with the arrow on the side of the shafts, then put the spacers on the bolts, put on the PDB in the outer holes, below the spacers and use knurls to tighten it together.
Step 14: Final Assembly
Use the triangular holes in the body to wire tie the receiver down. Bolt one battery mount onto the body, so that the battery will go below the body.
Slide the battery into that mount, then bolt the other battery on.
On each arm, get the cables all together then fold it down so that it sits flat below the sides. Get a piece of duct tape and tape over the wires and ESC. Run two lines of hot glue beneath the arm, about 10mm apart. Then get some wire ties and wire tie the tape down, so that the wire ties sit between the two lines of hot glue.
Use hot glue to ensure that all the wires ties stay in their specific locations.
Step 15: Testing
DO NOT PUT PROPS ON YET!!! For now we are just testing that everything functions. You may want to get a friend to hold your drone, or put it in a vice, so it doesn’t vibrate away.
Plug the FC into your computer and open up the FC software editor. Plug your battery into the PDB. Go to the motor testing page, and spin the motors up, one at a time. Double check that each motor is in the correct position, spinning the correct way.
Spin up all four motors at once to a high rpm leave them running for a minute or two. Ensure that they all spin at high speed and do not sound off. Then unplug everything.
Finally check that everything is tight, the plugs, the arms, the motors, the battery mount everything. Tighten up anything that wobbles.
Finally sit a motor shaft on the prop pusher, and push the prop onto the motor. Then tighten up the prop nuts. Repeat for the other motors.
Step 16: Maiden!!
I find it nice to name my projects before I know if they work, so that I have a much greater desire to see them work, and a much greater determination to make them works, so give your drone a name. I like to chose something relevant to the project but not extremely obvious at first guess. The name of my drone is Falcon.
Then get a brick, or something else heavy and cut a piece of string, about 1.5m long. Tie one side onto the brick and the other onto the battery mount of the drone. This will ensure that if it goes rogue it won’t hurt anyone or break anything.
Take it somewhere with no people to test it. Ensure you stay several meters away from the drone.
Start very low on throttle and carefully increase until it begins to take off, use your trim t cancel out any unwanted movement.
As you continue to adjust it lengthen the piece of string to give yourself more space for control. Eventually untie the string.
If you have any problems please let me know and I will do my best to help you. Also remember there is lots of info online!!!
Runner Up in the
Make It Fly Challenge