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Case Study

Conformal Fuel Tank Expands UAV Range

December 11, 2017
uav tanks

Conformal Fuel Tank Expands UAV Range

The Silver Fox small UAV, developed by Advanced Ceramics Research of Tucson, AZ, is designed to provide low cost aerial surveillance imaging and carry sensor payload packages. Working with engineers at Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, a leading supplier of rapid prototyping and manufacturing services, Advanced Ceramics has been able to develop a more reliable and larger volume fuel tank for the Silver Fox while not occupying any additional fuselage space.


"With this custom solution from Stratasys Direct Manufacturing we were able to restore this charming feature and add value to the Sampson Special."

This was accomplished using a Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) technology called Laser Sintering (LS). The LS process can provide production parts directly from 3D CAD data in as little as one day, without any tooling and with minimal NRE dollars. The LS process can also produce parts with very complex geometries, including interior features that would be prohibitively expensive to produce using traditional manufacturing techniques. The new fuel tanks were constructed from Stratasys Direct Manufacturing proprietary NyTek™ 1100 material that produces fully dense LS parts compatible with many petroleumbased products. To validate the new tank design, it was fully loaded with fuel and pressure tested at 5 psi for 48 hours at elevated temperatures, with no measurable fuel loss.

The re-designed Silver Fox fuel tank provides the following benefits over the original fuel tank:
  • Greater structural integrity from stronger, integrated, single-piece design.
  • Complex geometry includes clearance for hardware and fasteners.
  • Integrated wire-way clearance passages for electrical wiring and cable routing.
  • Conformal shape increases fuel volume, providing longer flight times.
  • Bulkheads add additional strength and reduce fuel movement, resulting in a more stable flight.
Advanced Ceramics Research Program Manager, Blane Boynton and Lead Design Engineer, Steve DeBord claim the success of this endeavor included five design concepts evolving into three prototype builds and then into production for 12 units in less than five weeks. This conformal fuel tank now contains 25% more fuel within the same fuselage space. The 2-ounce weight increase included the addition of antislosh bulkheads, which also resulted in a more robust tank with greater structural integrity for improved safety and reliability.