Top Challenges in Drone and UAV Manufacturing

Table of Contents

Drones, the stuff of science fiction or advanced military operations just a couple decades ago have recently become ubiquitous in hobby and commercial aviation thanks to advances in building materials, sensor and battery technology. 

In this article, we’ll dig into various growth areas, what challenges face small and mid-sized manufacturers, and how SendCutSend can help with both materials and services that allow for everything from quick prototyping to full production scenarios.

Table of Contents

Types of Drone and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Manufacturers

There are four groups that contribute to the wide world of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles — also known as UAVs. Each faces challenges which range from budgetary constraints that allow for an upgraded component to how long a particular reconnaissance aircraft can fly undetected by radar. 

Personal/Hobbyist

Whether it’s racing or customizing a drone to take amateur action videos, UAVs are a great pastime that gets more popular every year. That said, personal and hobbyist drone makers don’t typically need to order hundreds of identical parts, so economies of scale are just out of their reach. As a result, they may struggle to procure specialized parts and raw materials at competitive prices. Although this means careful budgeting and resource management to balance affordability with the desired level of performance and functionality, SendCutSend can help by offering single order options with many great materials and services, with orders starting at just $29 and always free shipping, so you can iterate your designs fast to stay on the cutting edge, even if you only fly on the weekends. 

Small Business/Startups

Spunky entrepreneurs with bright ideas and the agility to innovate and cater to niche markets — these manufacturers often prioritize user-friendliness and focus on creating drones specifically designed for hobbyists or beginners. Personal touch and focus on community can also be a major advantage for these smaller manufacturers.

These startup manufacturers face a unique set of challenges compared to their larger counterparts: Cost is a major hurdle; with research, development, and manufacturing high-quality drones requiring significant upfront investment, making it difficult for smaller companies to compete on price. 

While scaling production to meet demand can be difficult, the SendCutSend business model is built on transparent pricing and aggressive discounts for quantities starting at just two parts. Unlike bigger firms with established supply chains, smaller manufacturers might struggle to secure resources but because SendCutSend stocks all its materials, whether your order is 1 piece or 1,000 you can be confident that your parts will arrive on time. And yes, we do offer wholesale pricing!

Industrial/Commercial

Industrial and commercial drone and UAV makers operate within a rapidly evolving landscape driven by the demands of various sectors such as agriculture, construction, surveying, and logistics. While these manufacturers often enjoy more substantial resources compared to personal or hobbyist makers, they face their own set of challenges.

Unlike consumer electronics manufacturers who produce massive quantities of identical devices, commercial drones are often highly specialized for specific tasks. This requires a level of flexibility and customization that can be difficult to achieve on production lines.

Commercial clients often have strict budgets, and integrating the latest advancements like long-range sensors or autonomous flight systems can significantly inflate the price tag. This can make it difficult to convince companies to adopt drone technology.

Moreover, navigating geopolitical concerns and regulatory frameworks adds another layer of complexity, as compliance with aviation authorities, and secure technology that can’t be easily hacked is essential for market acceptance and safety. Balancing scalability with regulatory compliance and maintaining product quality requires strategic planning and investment.

Military (Aerospace and defense contractors)

Defense contractors play a crucial role in improving situational awareness on the battlefield, securing borders, driving forward advancements in general UAV technology and meeting the evolving needs of defense and security organizations.

Unlike consumer drones with standardized parts, military drones are often very specialized, and packed with classified technology. This complexity makes it difficult to ramp up production quickly to meet wartime demands. Additionally, the security risks associated with such advanced technology require robust cybersecurity measures throughout the design, manufacturing, and deployment process, adding another layer of complexity and cost. 

Dependence on components or technologies sourced from countries considered hostile or politically unstable can pose various challenges and vulnerabilities. One key risk is the potential for supply chain disruptions due to geopolitical tensions, trade restrictions, or sanctions imposed by governments. Such disruptions can impact production schedules, increase costs, and undermine the reliability and availability of critical components, thereby affecting military readiness and operational capabilities. 

Drone Manufacturing Challenges

To stay competitive UAVs are increasingly required to be situationally aware, require minimal human input, carry heavier payloads, travel greater distances, be able to take off and land in inclement weather, and a host of other challenges, all while coming in at a price below the GDP of a small republic. Let’s take a closer look at some of these manufacturing challenges and how SendCutSend helps address them. 

Minimum Quantity? One Piece

Although it’s always true that ordering in bulk will drive down per-piece prices, due to tooling costs, many parts manufacturers require minimum quantities in the hundreds before they’ll accept an order. At SendCutSend, we’ve streamlined the process of uploading your custom parts so that we can offer competitive pricing starting at $29 per order, with aggressive discounting starting at two pieces. 

An Iterative Process

Drones require many iterations and prototypes to refine the design, so rapid manufacturing all along the way is critical to shorten the total design-to-product cycle. Because SendCutSend has a great team of engineers and material specialists in-house we can offer Design Services that know how to work with each material we offer and their individual design guidelines. This frees up your engineering talent to focus less on the individual part, and more on the big picture.

That’s Heavy, Man

Weight is a huge constraint in drone manufacturing, because it directly impacts payload and range, so access to aerospace materials is important. Oftentimes, that means heavy use of composites like carbon fiber, but we have you covered with several grades of aerospace grade aluminum, G-10 fiberglass, and numerous other useful materials to round out your build.

Manufacturing Costs

Dealing with runaway costs on any project is not pleasant. This is no less true in UAV manufacturing, where parts from a wide range of suppliers are required. With instant pricing built into the SendCutSend App, ordering from us means you can keep track of what parts and add-on services are costing you in real time.

Manufacturing Time

The time it takes to manufacture individual parts can have a significant impact on an end product as complex as the modern drone. While custom parts sourced from overseas are often more cost competitive per part than domestic suppliers, the volatility in shipping over the last few years has driven many companies to secure domestic production when possible. With multiple facilities and raw materials always in-stock, we are set up to get your parts to you on time at competitive prices, with free shipping in the US and flat rate $19 shipping to Canada. 

Access to Services and Materials 

From UAV hobbyists up to mid-sized manufacturers, access to a wide range of in-house services and materials is a dream, more than a reality. SendCutSend is purpose-built to give these builders the capability they need without the incredible capital costs that come with stocking dozens of materials and offering 13 (and counting!) value-added services, like hardware insertion and bending

Communication

Correctly communicating design intent is important, but your suppliers understanding that and converting it to a successful part or assembly is critical. There are plenty of high profile examples of miscommunication leading to disaster, (we’re looking at you Mars Climate Orbiter), but the reality is that when outside manufacturing is local, the errors due to operating assumptions, units, language barriers, etc. are minimized. Contact our experts any day of the week to get assistance with your order.

Drone Design Challenges

Much like the UAV manufacturing landscape, the design of next-gen drones that can compete with the best technology in the world—in one of the hottest areas of innovation no less—poses significant challenges. Whether that’s a military supplier competing for a government contract, or a hobbyist trying to get maximum performance out of every gram and watt.

Payload Versatility

Drone designers face the challenge of creating platforms capable of accommodating a wide range of payloads while maintaining stability and efficiency. Whether it’s cameras for aerial photography, sensors for environmental monitoring, or even packages for delivery. Using SendCutSend, designers can outsource the manufacture of prototype assemblies in small batches, allowing for rapid customization and iteration without the burden of in-house production.

Weather Resistance

To be competitive, new drone designs must be able to take off and land safely in adverse weather conditions. With precise laser and CNC cutting capabilities and a range of specialized composites and affordable plastics suitable for weather-resistant drone components, designers can create custom enclosures or protective covers to shield sensitive electronics from rain, wind, and other environmental hazards.

Maximizing Battery Life

Extending battery life is a critical challenge in drone design. By outsourcing the manufacturing of lightweight carbon fiber battery enclosures, aluminum heat sinks, and even copper busbars to SendCutSend, designers can optimize the layout and materials used to maximize energy efficiency. This streamlines the testing of new battery solutions.

Performance While Carrying Equipment 

Balancing weight with agility and range is an ongoing battle. SendCutSend empowers designers to outsource the manufacturing of lightweight, high-strength components like motor housings or carbon fiber frames. Allowing designers to test different materials and configurations without heavy upfront investments in production equipment.

Miniaturization of Components

As drones become smaller, the accuracy and tolerancing of each individual part becomes more important. Designers can leverage our expertise in precision laser cutting to create miniaturized components with tight tolerances. This allows for the integration of fine features, from tabs and slots, to tapped holes or hardware into compact drone designs, maximizing the effectiveness of each individual part. 

Ethical Considerations 

Transparency and data security are paramount, not only when the drone is up in the air, but also when you’re trusting your cutting-edge designs to a supplier. SendCutSend doesn’t share. Your designs, that is: Any design uploaded to sendcutsend.com is secure, and you retain 100% of the intellectual property rights. Check out our Privacy Policy for more info.

Drone Types and Technologies

Navigating through various drone types and technologies requires flexibility and adaptability. By relying on SendCutSend materials and services, designers can quickly explore different design concepts and configurations without committing to large production runs. And when the right design and the right material come together, we’ll be here to produce 10,000 pieces for you.

Safety

By partnering with SendCutSend for laser cut parts and adding bends, tapped holes, or even our hardware insertion service, you reduce not only the amount of equipment in the shop, but also the risk associated with these operations, minimizing workplace accidents and ensuring that our skilled professionals handle the complex machinery and equipment. By outsourcing as many services as possible, designers can focus on actually designing while prioritizing the safety of themselves and their team.

Regulatory and Compliance Challenges

International Trade Barriers

The global drone and UAV industry is feeling the pinch of international trade barriers. Tariffs and import restrictions, intended to bolster domestic suppliers, are causing headaches for manufacturers. These barriers disrupt the smooth flow of essential parts, creating delays and shortages. This disrupts production schedules and can even limit the features and capabilities of drones as companies struggle to source necessary components

Privacy and Security

As drones become more affordable and accessible, there is a growing apprehension regarding their potential misuse for intrusive surveillance or data collection. Hobbyist drones equipped with high-resolution cameras raise concerns about privacy violations, especially when flown in residential areas or near sensitive locations. Moreover, manufacturers face scrutiny over the security of their drone systems, with fears of unauthorized access, hacking, or exploitation of onboard data. Instances of drones being used for illegal activities, such as smuggling or espionage, further exacerbate these concerns. 

As with any emerging technology, particularly one with the privacy concerns facing drone manufacturers, as governments try to address them and protect rights, a regulatory quagmire can at best confuse hobbyists and at worst lock up innovation. One major hurdle is Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) registration and operation regulations, which vary considerably across countries and even states, creating confusion for hobbyists and commercial operators alike. 

Keeping track of the specific rules for weight limits, flight zones, and required pilot licenses can be a logistical nightmare. This makes it difficult for manufacturers to standardize drones. Streamlining the registration process and fostering international cooperation on airspace management are crucial steps for ensuring the safe and responsible integration of drones into our skies.

Scaling and Logistics Challenges

UAV enthusiasts and manufacturers of any size can rely on SendCutSend for on-demand manufacturing of drone parts in dozens of available materials, ensuring timely production and delivery to support your operations. 

Increased Demand

Being in demand is great, but it can quickly overwhelm existing production capacity. Manufacturers must be able to quickly scale up infrastructure, workforce, and material acquisition, risking inefficiency and quality control issues. While SendCutSend can’t address every issue that comes with quickly increasing demand, when you partner with us for your laser cut materials and value added services, you can be confident that together we will meet growing demand without compromising quality or delivery timelines.

Cost-Effectiveness

Balancing affordability with quality is a constant struggle, particularly when competing in international markets. Optimizing supply chain management is essential. This involves identifying cost-efficient material sources, obtaining bulk discounts, and streamlining production processes to minimize waste. Fortunately, our App does those things automatically when you upload any part.

Total Cost of Ownership

We’ve talked a lot about the fact that UAV and Drone manufacturers need a reliable network of part and sub-assembly suppliers, but sometimes it’s beneficial to make parts in-house, particularly if they’re technologically simple—a laser cut piece of metal for instance. While it might sound fun to rig up a DIY CNC cutting table, particularly as the cost of accurate and adequate technology comes down, when you look at the true cost of a laser cutting machine, (or waterjet, or commercial bending equipment, or… you get the idea), you’ll realize that the economics lean hard toward SendCutSend unless you’re doing thousands of pieces a month. 

Conclusion

Because of the rate of technology trickle-down in the last couple decades, drones have gone from specialized military technology to something you can buy off the shelf at a big box store for under $50. This availability means that drones have become increasingly useful in areas ranging from agricultural surveying and spraying to industrial inspection, and of course, a huge hobbyist market. Even in the package delivery industry, UAVs are making headway since they require around 90% less energy to deliver a package than conventional vehicles over the “last mile”.

Yes, there are challenges to getting your drone business off the ground, but with partners like SendCutSend doing some of the heavy lifting, they’re becoming increasingly easy to address. 

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Flush Standoff, 4-40, .250" Zinc plus Clear Chromate

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SKUSO-440-8
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Hole size in sheet (+0.003/-.0.000).168″
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When determining the distance between two or more fasteners, you can calculate the distance by the formula, C/L to edge + 1/2 the diameter of the second mounting hole..345″
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We proudly use hardware by PEM

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Hole size in sheet (+0.003/-.0.000).166″
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