By Rebecca Carnes,

When an engineer sits down to design an electro-mechanical system, he might find himself scratching his head at finding a way to fit ten pounds of electrical wiring, clips, passive components, and brackets into a five pound area. But what if all those electrical components could be printed onto a part using additive manufacturing and electronics printing technology?

Stratasys and Optomec Inc. recently combined forces to create the world’s first fully-printed hybrid structure—a “smart wing” for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) provided by Aurora Flight Sciences that has opened doors for a slew of other parts in various industries that could be made faster, cheaper, and altogether “smarter.”

For the aerospace industry, that could mean printed parts that instantly access sensitive electronic data on a future generation of airplanes, said Jeff DeGrange, who worked at Boeing for 20 years before becoming Stratasys’s current VP of direct digital manufacturing. “What happens if an aircraft control system valve gets stuck? With ‘smart’ capability, you can sense the pressure drop that might cause a flap to malfunction. It’s about being able to sense that quickly. I think that’s where the technology can go to make a more robust, smart product as we head to the future,” DeGrange said in a phone interview.

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