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Protolabs’ digital manufacturing service goes above and beyond for Nokia


Nokia Enterprise Solutions has created a platform-based, wireless Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAVs) with a focus on superior 5G connectivity for industrial applications.

Nokia Drone Networks (NDN) – powered by Nokia Digital Automation Cloud – is an end-to-end solution comprising private and secure mobile broadband cloud connectivity.

The solution enables a fleet of drones to fly on automated individual missions steered from the NDN ground control station. For maximum versatility, the payload of the drone can be changed, and the Nokia drones can be equipped or enhanced in many ways. The Nokia dual camera gimbal has mounted HD video and thermal video cameras and the UAV can also carry equipment such as loud speakers, search lights and customizable sensors for smoke, motion, and radiation.

In this way, the drones can meet a range of business and industrial applications, from collecting data for perimeter security purposes for instance, to facilitating public safety operations in mission critical situations. The drones are connected over a private, high capacity mobile broadband network, ensuring they remain unaffected by congestion in the public network and can be operated manually if needed.

Whilst adoption of aerial drones and drone technology is growing across industries such as agriculture, construction, mining, telecommunications and utilities, the deployment of Nokia Drone Networks for public safety use has understandably garnered the most plaudits.


Expertise in digital manufacturing

Nokia asked Protolabs to support them in the development of a CE/CB certified 5G industrial-use UAV solution. The drone can be primarily used for surveillance and security as well as for humanitarian purposes.

Successful manufacturing was achieved through the advice of Protolabs’ expert team of Application Engineers and the rapid injection moulding of parts; pressed, packed and shipped to Nokia for assembly.

It’s imperative that unmanned aviation products meet all the certification requirements demanded by the relevant aviation authorities as well as those expected by customers across the European marketplace. The stringent aviation certification constraints, combined with a need for the highest spec 5G connectivity performance that’s synonymous with Nokia, was to present a considerable engineering challenge to both the Protolabs and Nokia teams.


Injection Moulding to help build Nokia UAV


At A Glance

nokia drone challengeChallenge

Support the development of high tech drones from Nokia, which take into consideration connectivity requirements and stringent aviation regulations.

nokia drone solutionSolution

The Nokia team approached Protolabs for their advisory as well as rapid injection moulding service. 19 different part designs for casing, structural elements and a gasket were moulded in record time.

nokia drone outcomeOutcome

Protolabs worked with Nokia to identify an appropriate material for the project. And following changes to the design, and to the tool itself, to ensure material flow in the moulding process, parts were successfully pressed and swiftly shipped to the customer.

Meeting aviation requirements

In aviation, all components must be as lightweight as possible whilst conforming to the strictest safety standards. However, the safety aspect can be challenged when designing unmanned aviation products such as drones because of the huge energy source that is carried within the device. This energy source can confound the strict aviation regulations around flammable products.

So it’s vital that materials used within a UAV meet all flammability standards. Another vital consideration is that materials stand up to the robust requirements of outdoor use. How the material fares when exposed to factors such as fluctuating temperatures, precipitation and ultraviolet radiation – does the material become brittle in sunlight, for instance – must be verified.

The precise choice of material for the Nokia project was to prove key to its success. A few weeks into the venture, despite the fact that tooling at Protolabs had already begun, Nokia had to abandon their first choice of material due to it not meeting both the certification standards and their precise needs.

The Nokia and Protolabs teams had to go back to the drawing board to find that exceptional material that could satisfy all requirements. After a painstaking search, they eventually found a solution, as explained by Thomas Eder, Head of Embedded Wireless Solutions, Nokia Enterprise Solutions:

“Our selection process took on two phases; in the first phase, due to there being no qualifying materials within UAV design, we looked at materials typically used in the automotive sector that also met aviation standards. Then in the second phase we matched the material against the machining capabilities of Protolabs. Thankfully, Protolabs’ machining capabilities are broad so our options remained open and we were relieved to eventually find a great material that served all our needs.”


“It was an extraordinary engineering challenge that was met by an extraordinary service from Protolabs. We appreciated their efficiency, expertise, attention to detail and the speed was something that not many other manufacturers could have achieved. Once we had the material locked in, Protolabs were able to mould the parts and get them shipped out to us extremely swiftly."

Thomas Eder, Head of Embedded Wireless Solutions, Nokia Enterprise Solutions


Preparing for mouldability

Protolabs adapted the tooling created for the previously abandoned material, saving valuable time and cost to Nokia. And their efforts helped ensure the new material would perform well in the press environment – a uniquely challenging scenario for the team.

Dom Corpuz, the Protolabs Application Engineer who led the project described the collaboration with Nokia:

“The initial material, from a manufacturing perspective, presented no particular challenge in terms of press capability. But the material that was ultimately selected by Nokia, after flow simulations were conducted, showed it would potentially encounter filling issues when the parts were moulded.

“This challenge was overcome by collaboration between us and the team at Nokia, where we discussed part design changes, tooling configuration and the pressure needed to ensure an effective flow of material into the mould cavity. Nokia’s needs were very precise and I’m delighted we were able to support them fully on such an important project.”


Nokia UAV built with Protolabs Injection Moulding

Material advice

Beyond the machinery capability at Protolabs, Dom and the Application Engineering team were able to support in a material advisory capacity, too. Thomas went on to say:

“Where Protolabs did an outstanding job – apart from delivering on the machinery specification requirements, part design and tool configuration – was helping us with the selection of the material.

We were against a unique manufacturing challenge as the material not only needed to meet stringent aviation safety and outdoor use certification; it had to allow the drone to perform as a 5G device with connectivity. Many drone manufacturers and other similar manufacturers within the aviation sector include small metal parts inside the device that require connectivity, so the casing and structural parts must not prevent this element of the functionality.


“If you use a material that has an EMC shielding, but then have an integrated antenna within the shielded enclosure, this will potentially inhibit connectivity. These drones are basically 5G connected robots so the materials used needed to be very carefully selected to work within incredibly tight certification and connectivity parameters.”

“In addition to the strict requirements from certification the material had to also perform well in mechanically challenging environment where heavy vibrations and shocks are present. Aerial solutions also require the parts to be as lightweight as possible which means thin walls causing challenges in the moulding pressure. Protolabs did an outstanding job guiding us through the intricacies of mould design process especially considering the new more difficult material. The constant support received while evaluating different materials was outstanding.”

Jaakko Vuorio, Principal Hardware Engineer, Nokia Enterprise Solutions


A successful conclusion

The collaboration with Protolabs required no less than 19 different part designs, for both casing and structural aspects of the device, as well as one gasket. The Protolabs components not only protected the elements inside the drone and provided the necessary aerodynamics required for a high performance UAV; they were also intrinsic to the framework of the drone, ultimately holding the device together.

The parts were quickly sampled for verification by Nokia and the production order was placed. Thomas concluded:

“It was an extraordinary engineering challenge that was met by an extraordinary service from Protolabs. We appreciated their efficiency, expertise, attention to detail and the speed was something that not many other manufacturers could have achieved. Once we had the material locked in, Protolabs were able to mould the parts and get them shipped out to us extremely swiftly."

“We look forward to a long-term business relationship with our trusted partner Protolabs – a relationship that is built on trust and high-performance collaboration.”

Thomas Eder, Head of Embedded Wireless Solutions, Nokia Enterprise Solutions

Want to learn more about how Protolabs supports similar businesses with CNC machined, injection moulded or 3D printed prototypes?
Check out our case study about General Drones, in which Protolabs supported an engineer in their journey to create a series of lightweight, precise, multi-geometry parts.