Zipline International Inc. designs and builds autonomous flying drones that transport medical supplies in hard-to-reach regions. The company uses design solutions from Siemens PLM Software. This enables the easy and cost-effective manufacture of the drones, which can travel at around 100 kilometers per hour, and brings together the individual disciplines involved in the process, such as electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and aero engineering. Simulations enable virtual test flights, making it easy to identify and remove faults and to optimize the drones.
In many countries around the world, for example Tanzania or Rwanda in Africa, the supply of medical products is a major challenge – particularly in an emergency. Areas are often remote and hard to reach. Above all, a lack of blood supplies frequently leads to fatalities. In 2016, CEO of Zipline Keller Rinaudo and his team developed a new delivery system for medical supplies. “Our first-generation aircraft and logistics system allowed us to create the first drone-only delivery service in the world”, says Rinaudo. “And it is helping to save lives in Rwanda every day.” Since the first drone took off, Zipline has completed over 7,000 flights and delivered 13,000 units of blood. This success is due in no small part to the careful design of the drones, where Zipline relies on NX software from Siemens PLM Software.
Quick and easy data handling
The drones have a service radius of 80 kilometers and can carry up to 1.75 kilos of cargo per flight. It is also important that they can work in all weather conditions and deal with any unforeseen problems. The design software used in the company’s early years quickly reached its limits. “I really pushed hard to move the company to NX”, recalls Scott Parker, Mechanical Engineer at Zipline. “Something that you want to do with an aircraft like this is check that your part fits with the rest of the plane. In the previous CAD package, that would be a multi-hour ordeal. With NX, you just load it up. Everything is fast, and you don’t make mistakes.” In addition, using NX Journal enables Zipline to quickly and easily create a bottom-up Bill of Materials that gives a detailed mass buildup, which helps the firm optimize the aircraft in terms of weight.
Virtual tests for real-life rescue missions
In addition to maximum weight reduction – each kilogram saved increases the range of the drone by five percent – test flights also play a key role. With virtual test flights, Zipline can simulate the heat characteristics of the battery or the thermal performance of the drone cost-effectively and without physical prototypes. Jeremy Schwartz, Roboticist at Zipline, sums up what this work means to the team: “When one of our drones takes off in Rwanda, it’s delivering blood to somebody who needs blood. It’s saving somebody’s life, and just thinking about that is an incredible thing.”