SL5 3D Printed Micro Quadcopter Build & Review

The SL5 by 3D-DS is a 3D printed micro quadcopter frame freely available for download from Thingiverse. I put one together to see how it performs. The SL5 micro quadcopter was released by 3D-DS via their website and through the RCGroups.com forum last year (see below for link to the official sales thread). It’s available for a modest manufacturing and shipping charge, but also published on to the Thingiverse 3D printing website, where designers make their products freely available for other people to download and print at home. With the increasing popularity of 3D printing, multirotor frames and accessories are becoming ever more widely accessible within the R/C hobby. I decided to get one printed locally and build one up to see how a 3D printed quadcopter frame performs.

Specifications

I decided to go with the motors, propellers and ESC’s recommended by 3D-DS for this quad, which happens to be the same power-train found on the Turnigy PCB Micro Quad V2 sold by HobbyKing (no longer available for sale as of 2015). I had one of these in the parts bin after a few crashes led to the PCB frame being damaged beyond repair, so recycled the components for use on the SL5. The complete build specifications were as follows:

  • 4x Turnigy 1811 brushless Outrunner 2900kv (via HobbyKing)
  • 4x Turnigy Plush 6A Electronic Speed Controller (via HobbyKing)
  • 2x 5030 Propellers (Red) - CW and CCW (via HobbyKing)
  • 2x 5030 Propellers (Black) - CW and CCW (via HobbyKing)
  • 1x ZIPPY Compact 850mAh 2S 25C Lipo Pack (via HobbyKing)
  • 1x Hobbyking KK2.0 Multi-rotor LCD Flight Control Board (via HobbyKing)
  • 1x Hitec Minima 6T 2.4GHz radio receiver (via local dealer)

I chose not to fit any camera equipment to the SL5, but there is an optional ‘keychain’ camera mounting plate available on the Thingiverse webpage to support an under-slung forward facing camera. With a bit of effort a complete FPV system should be achievable too, as demonstrated on the RCGroups owners thread.

Printing the Frame

The complete platform consists of the main frame piece, with four landing struts, two electronics protectors and two battery strap holders. It is available for purchase from 3D-DS in a choice of black or red plastic, with colour customisation options for each of the individual pieces. If you’re printing your own SL5 frame, then of course any colour combinations are possible.

I printed this frame using a Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D printer as shown in the photos below. It took about eight hours to print a complete frame and then wash the temporary support structures out. The photos below show preparing the Thingiverse STL files for use with the printer and the frame being printed.

Preparing to print the quadcopter frame. 3D printing the quadcopter frame. 3D printing in progress.

The photo below shows the first attempt at printing the main frame. I ended up reprinting the frame (shown later in blue coloured plastic) using a ‘honeycomb’ option on the printer which does not completely in-fill the interior of the printed pieces. This made the complete frame considerably lighter (approximately 40%) with a surprisingly minimal effect on frame rigidity.

SL5 3D printed quadcopter frame.

Assembly

The following hardware was needed to assemble the frame and install the flight components:

  • M2 14mm socket screws (pack of 20)
  • M2 flat washers (pack of 20)
  • M2 nuts (pack of 20)
  • M2 8mm self-tapping screws with shoulder (pack of 20)
  • Cable ties and velcro straps

I sourced the hardware from an RC Helicopter shop on eBay, but 3D-DS also sells a hardware kit with the above parts for a small additional cost. Putting the quad together was a painless and quick procedure. I chose to directly solder the motor and ESC cables to save weight, but if using parts with bullet connectors already fitted, assembly will be very quick. A nice touch was the inclusion of motor numbers and rotation markers embossed on to the frame which aided the initial assembly and setup process.

The KK2 board was screwed directly to the frame, as there are small 38mm square stand-off posts included in the frame design. The motors were bolted down and everything else was attached to the frame using zip ties. The propellers for these particular motors are a simple push-fit design, but during flight I never had one come loose. One minor issue during assembly was that the propeller shaft holes were too small for these motors despite HobbyKing stating they are to be used together (discussed at great length on the HobbyKing product web page in the discussion section). However this was easily fixed by using a 2.0mm drill bit and pliers to manually ream each propeller before fitting.

I used a JST Y-splitter cable to provide power to both the KK2 board and a small blue LED lighting strip across the front of the frame, as shown below (also purchased from HobbyKing). The Hitec Minima 6T receiver fitted snugly between the two electronics guards.

SL5 3D printed quadcopter (assembled). SL5 3D printed quadcopter (top view). SL5 3D printed quadcopter (LEDs view).

Flight Performance

I was really pleased with how well this quad flew, both indoors and out. It was stable and predictable, and the plastic frame performed brilliantly. Performance outdoors was reasonable, although it will be necessary to avoid the wind if using 2S LiPo power.

The parts are rated for 2S LiPo operation, but I regularly found using 3S was worth the slight risk of burning out an ESC or motor, as it gave the quad more punch and ability to counteract wind gusts better. Squeezing some bigger motors on to this frame to build a 4S FPV racer would be an interesting challenge and certainly result in an incredibly fast and nimble flying machine.

Having crashed the SL5 both on hard and soft surfaces a handful of times, it is fair to say that the 3D printed frame is durable enough. The very slight flex in the plastic frame arms may even be beneficial in a hard impact.

Conclusion

The 3D-DS SL5 is a clean and well executed frame design which is ‘free’ to reproduce at home, or cheap to buy from the designer. Unlikely to win any medals in FPV races due to its micro size and it can struggle in windy conditions. However, it is well worth a try especially if you’ve never 3D printed before. If you’ve ever wondered about putting together a 3D printed quad, or wanted to build a quad smaller than an average 250 sized racing quad, the SL5 is worthy of serious consideration.

More Information

If you would like to find out more about the SL5 micro quadcopter, a good place to start is the official product thread on the RCGroups forum website. Here you can see more build photos and in-flight videos of the SL5, and join in the discussion. You can download the 3D printing files from the SL5 Thingiverse page. The SL5 is designed and sold by 3D-DS. You can visit their website and order direct at http://www.3d-ds.com/.

A search for quadcopter on Thingiverse.com turns up numerous alternative designs for multi-rotor frames and is well worth a look if you’re thinking about building a 3D printed multi-rotor to see what else is available.

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