General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), a manufacturer of remotely piloted aircraft, radars, electro-optic and related mission systems headquartered in Poway, California, USA, is partnering with Divergent Technologies, Torrance, California, to boost its Additive Manufacturing capabilities and bring digital manufacturing to the production of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
Divergent has developed a data-driven method to design, fabricate and assemble vehicle structures called the ‘Divergent Adaptive Production System’ (DAPS). This innovative approach enables highly integrated weight and performance-optimised designs, produced by Additive Manufacturing and other technologies, that lower airframe recurring cost while providing a rapid tool-less iterative design approach for multiple platform variants.
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“Throughout our thirty years of designing and developing advanced UAS, GA-ASI has been focused on implementing new capabilities into our manufacturing process,” stated David R Alexander, president of GA-ASI. “We’re working with Divergent to integrate their technology as part of our Additive Design and Manufacturing Center of Excellence strategy, with the goal of optimising our design and manufacturing processes and providing next generation UAS at the lowest cost.”
Divergent has grown within the automobile sector as a provider of digital manufacturing process adaptations, producing some of the fastest cars on the market with several recent car OEM adoption announcements. GA-ASI’s Additive Manufacturing, aircraft integrity, material and design engineering teams are working with Divergent to adapt, apply and qualify its automobile industry-qualified technology to GA-ASI’s aircraft production.
“Divergent has invented the first industrial digital manufacturing system. Leveraging innovations in artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and automation, DAPS can be used to build the underlying structure for virtually any vehicle – whether land, sea, air, or space – better, faster and more cost efficiently than traditional manufacturing,” added Kevin Czinger, Founder, Lead Inventor & CEO of Divergent.
In 2022, GA-ASI began a joint development programme with Divergent which led to a stronger strategic partnership on multiple platforms. The partners have already completed two projects leading to a fully integrated small (< 227 kg) UAS aerostructure, making use of model-based, AI-driven, and topology optimised designs. The integrated metal structure was additively manufactured, which led to the reduction of the part count integration by over 95% while meeting weight targets.
The DAPS process inspected each additively manufactured component by creating a full digital twin of the small UAS (SUAS) that was then applied to a fully automated, tool-less robotic assembly process that took fewer than twenty minutes to complete. This process reportedly enabled the team to go from a build-ready SUAS design to a fully assembled deliverable airframe in less than two days.