Baker Industries, Inc., Detroit, Michigan, USA, a Lincoln Electric Company, and Lincoln Electric Additive Solutions (LEAS) have announced a new strategic relationship with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI), headquartered in Poway, California, on a research & development project exploring the feasibility of Wire-Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM), a Directed Energy Deposition (DED) process, for producing steel layup tooling used in the manufacturing of composite from GA-ASI’s unmanned aerial systems.
GA-ASI sought a solution for complex tooling that was repeatable, accurate, vacuum-tight, and rigid enough to withstand the stress and fatigue caused by repetitive autoclave cycles. After a collaborative review of several tool geometries and requirements, the companies’ engineering teams determined that WAAM might be the right solution.
“Our turnaround time can be significantly quicker than larger job shops, and we can usually ramp up production quickly to combat fluctuations in customer demand,” stated Mike Wangelin, Business Development Manager at Lincoln Electric Additive Solutions and Baker Industries.
Coupled with Baker’s post-processing, fabrication and inspection capabilities, Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing’s ability to quickly produce large, complex components using several materials could present a comprehensive solution to GA-ASI’s production tooling needs.
While still in the process of qualification at GA-ASI, the process is said to have demonstrated preliminary success toward reaching production-level use in GA-ASI’s manufacturing operations. Overall, GA-ASI has seen savings ranging between 30-40% in cost and about 20-30% in lead time using Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing in place of traditional manufacturing processes for specific tool families and geometries. In addition, the first tool produced has passed GA-ASI’s initial assessments. It is vacuum-tight, has a uniform thermal survey, and exceeds target GD&T requirements.