In the world of aerospace, innovation is not just a goal; it's a necessity

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI), a leader in developing unmanned aircraft systems, has embraced this truth by integrating Additive Manufacturing (AM) into its core processes. From experimental beginnings to becoming a manufacturing cornerstone, GA-ASI’s journey with AM exemplifies innovation at its finest.

Revolutionising design and production

GA-ASI’s foray into AM has revolutionised how unmanned aircraft like the MQ-9A Reaper and MQ-9B SkyGuardian are built. By adopting AM, GA-ASI has not only streamlined its manufacturing processes but has also unlocked new potential in aircraft design and functionality. The result? Thousands of parts were produced via AM, now flying across multiple GA-ASI platforms.

A systematic approach for optimal results

GA-ASI’s success with AM isn’t accidental. It’s the outcome of a systematic, refined approach aligning with business objectives. Key strategies include developing a robust AM ecosystem, establishing a solid business case for AM, and partnering with industry leaders. This disciplined approach ensures each AM project aligns with the company’s mission, ensuring quality and innovation at every step.

Stratasys: a partnership that elevates

In its quest to master AM, GA-ASI partnered with Stratasys, leveraging their Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. This collaboration has been pivotal in GA-ASI’s ability to produce flight-worthy AM parts, ensuring cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

In-house AM capabilities let GA-ASI respond to rapid-reaction development efforts where designs are in flux, and AM provides the right tools for a high level of iteration. In contrast, outsourcing to qualified, reliable contract manufacturers like Stratasys Direct Manufacturing delivers the best solution for overflow and forecastable production. “You have to partner with the Stratasyses of the AM world to understand the best practices, the best lessons learned, and assimilate and share knowledge in a win-win situation,” says Senior Manager, Steve Fournier. To put meaning behind that statement, GA-ASI consults with Stratasys Direct Manufacturing’s engineers, and the two companies’ workflows emulate each other. Fournier also makes distinctions between contract manufacturers like Stratasys Direct and service bureaus. “They’re not the same,” says Fournier. “A service bureau will deliver something, but there’s no quality clauses or the rigor of manufacturing to deliver a fully functional flight part repeatably, at least from our industry standpoint. A contract manufacturer will take responsibility for the quality and will be audited and take that level of stringency to deliver that hardware, not only once, but always to the same quality level,” he says.

The future of aerospace with AM

The impact of AM at GA-ASI is profound: over $2m in tooling cost savings and achieving more than $300,000 in recurring cost avoidance, and enhanced design possibilities. But the journey doesn’t end here. GA-ASI continues to push the boundaries, using AM not just as a manufacturing method but as a catalyst for innovation in aerospace design and production.

For Australian Aerospace manufacturers, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing Global Network Services are available through local partners, Objective3D Direct Manufacturing.