Nokia Flies High with Specialized 5G-capable Security Drone

Digital manufacturing goes above and beyond by molding 19 different part designs for Nokia

Imagine having a fleet of eyes in the skies, ensuring your company’s safety 24/7. Nokia Enterprise Solutions has created a platform-based, wireless Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) with a focus on superior 5G connectivity for industrial applications. It uses Nokia Drone Networks (NDN)—powered by the Nokia Digital Automation Cloud. 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 capability and thermal video cameras and. The UAV can also carry equipment such as loudspeakers, search lights, and customizable sensors to detect 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 5G network. They can be operated manually, if needed.

While 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 attention.

Design Challenge: Meeting 5G Communications and Aviation Requirements

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

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 in the marketplace. The stringent aviation certification constraints, combined with a need for the highest spec 5G connectivity performance that’s synonymous with Nokia, presented a considerable engineering challenge to both the Protolabs and Nokia teams.

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

Nokia drone illustration
At A Glance


Support the development of high-tech drones from Nokia, which have specialized connectivity requirements and must adhere to stringent aviation regulations.


The Nokia team approached Protolabs for advice and to use our rapid injection molding service. Nineteen different part designs for casing, structural elements, and a gasket were molded in record time.


Protolabs worked with Nokia to identify an appropriate material for the project. Following changes to the design and to the tool itself, we helped ensure material flow in the molding process. Parts were successfully molded and swiftly shipped to the customer.


Nokia Drone
This Nokia drone connects to a private LTE/5G cloud for fast and secure connectivity. Those high frequency signals required materials that wouldn't interfere with data transmission, which can include real-time video and special sensors.

Solution: Finding Lightweight, Rugged Materials that Allow 5G Signals

In aviation, all components must be as lightweight as possible while conforming to the strictest safety standards. However, safety is an issue when designing unmanned aviation products such as drones because of the high-capacity battery used to power the device. The compact, but powerful battery can be flammable under certain circumstances, challenging strict aviation regulations. 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 does the material fare when exposed to fluctuating temperatures, precipitation, and ultraviolet radiation? Does the material become brittle in sunlight? Each of these must be verified.

The precise choice of material for the Nokia project was to prove the key to its success. A few weeks into the venture, even though tooling had already begun, Nokia had to abandon its first choice of material because it didn’t meet both the certification standards and their precise needs.

The Nokia and Protolabs teams had to go back to the drawing board to find the right material that could satisfy all requirements. After a painstaking search, they eventually found a solution.

They ended up with a two-phase selection process. In the first phase, because there are no qualifying materials within UAV design, the teams looked at materials typically used in the automotive sector that also met aviation standards. Then in the second phase, they matched the material with Protolabs’ machining capabilities. A range of machining capabilities gave Nokia options that ultimately yielded the right material: Emerge 8030-15 (Black PC). Polycarbonates are lightweight, easy-to-mold thermoplastics that are extremely durable and highly resistant to impact and fracture. They are also fire resistant and have insulating properties.

“It was an extraordinary engineering challenge that was met by 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 molded the parts and shipped them out to us extremely swiftly."

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

Preparing for Moldability

The injection molding team adapted the tooling created for the previously abandoned material, saving valuable time and cost to Nokia. Those efforts helped ensure the new material would perform well in the press environment—a uniquely challenging scenario for the team.

While the initial material didn’t present a challenge in terms of press capability, additional tests noted one important issue. Flow simulations indicated that there would be problems filling the molds.

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

Material Advice

Beyond the machining capabilities at Protolabs, Corpuz and the applications engineering team were able to support in a material advisory capacity, too.

“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,” said Eder.

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 had to be made of something that wouldn’t interfere with the signal.

“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,” said Corpuz. “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.”

And of course, there was the issue of vibrations, shocks, a challenging environment, and the need for lightweight materials. Keeping the drone light meant designing thin walls, which can make it tough to find the correct pressure that will allow for complete resin flow, but not damage the mold. “Protolabs did an outstanding job guiding us through the intricacies of the mold design process, especially considering the new more difficult material. The constant support we received while evaluating different materials was outstanding,” said Jaakko Vuorio, principal hardware engineer, Nokia Enterprise Solutions.

Outcome: Putting it all Together

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 components not only protected the elements inside the drone and provided the necessary aerodynamics required for a high-performance UAV, but they were also intrinsic to the framework of the drone, ultimately holding the device together.

Nokia quickly sampled the parts for verification and the production order was placed. “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,” said Eder.