General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc (GA-ASI), a US aeronautics company, has completed its first test flight with a metal 3D printed part featured onboard its SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) system.
GA-ASI’s strategy for scaling metal additive manufacturing across its RPA platforms has been supported by AddWorks, the consultation service of 3D printer OEM GE Additive, since the first half of 2019.
Working with AddWorks since then, the GA-ASI additive manufacturing team reached a milestone in February 2020 when it performed the company’s first test flight of a metal 3D printed part – a NACA inlet made in titanium Ti6Al4V – on a SkyGuardian RPA.
GA-ASI, a US aeronautics company, has completed its first test flight with a metal 3D printed part featured onboard its SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) system
“With the GE Additive AddWorks team, we were able not only to achieve our short term objective of qualifying the NACA inlet, but we also worked together on a number of additional application development and qualification efforts, which are continuing into 2020 and beyond,” commented Elie Yehezkel, senior vice president of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies for GA-ASI.
Accelerating the adoption of metal AM
Founded in 1993, GA-ASI is a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) systems, radars, electro-optic and related mission systems. It is an affiliate of General Atomics, the US energy and defence corporation.
GA-ASI already has significant experience with polymer-based 3D printing, and only recently made strides in developing its metal additive manufacturing roadmap. After establishing the required ecosystem to support metal additive manufacturing applications, the GA-ASI AM team identified a series of parts and families of applications with potentially favourable business cases.
Amongst its pipeline of suitable components for metal additive manufacturing, GA-ASI identified the NACA inlet to be a strong business case for the first metal 3D printed part for the SkyGuardian programme
The company partnered with GE Additive’s AddWorks team in April 2019, to support the acceleration of metal laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) additive manufacturing at the company, while also strengthening the qualification of both its products and processes. AddWorks provides a step by step consultation service for adopting 3D printing, which begins with defining the business case, building a team, and identifying funding opportunities.
Saving time and costs with metal additive manufacturing
Amongst its pipeline of suitable components for metal additive manufacturing, GA-ASI identified the NACA inlet to be a strong business case for the first metal 3D printed part for the SkyGuardian programme, after assessing part criticality and programme impacts. NACA inlets, developed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, are a type of submerged air inlet that has found application on many types of air and ground vehicles. Through its consultation service, the AddWorks team supported the process and production readiness of the NACA inlet with improved design and risk reduction.
3D printed as a single piece on a Concept Laser M2 machine, the inlet now delivers a cost reduction per part of more than 90 per cent, weight reduction of over 30 per cent, and tooling reduction of approximately 85 per cent. The GA-ASI team is now applying best practices and knowledge to its wider NACA inlet part family and several other components and subsystems.