Baker Industries, a Lincoln Electric Company – an industry-leading supplier to OEM and Tier 1 manufacturers in some of the world’s most demanding industries – and Lincoln Electric Additive Solutions (LEAS) have entered into a new strategic relationship with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) on a research and development project exploring the feasibility of wire-arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) for producing steel layup tooling used in the manufacturing of composite lamination for GA-ASI’s unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
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 could 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,” said Mike Wangelin, Business Development Manager at Lincoln Electric Additive Solutions and Baker Industries. Coupled with Baker’s robust post-processing, fabrication, and inspection capabilities, WAAM’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 has 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 WAAM in place of traditional manufacturing processes for specific tool families and geometries. Additionally, 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.
The profile tolerance includes a target GD&T of 0.020″ – of which the actual measurements were -0.0039″ / +0.0058″, a true position hole location target GD&T of 0.020″ – of which the actual measurements were 0.0009″ / 0.0037″, and a vacuum integrity target GD&T of 0.5 inHg/10 min – of which the actual measurement was a 0.2 inHg loss.