In this post we breakdown three common pitfalls in aerospace prototyping and manufacturing that, to our surprise, often go unheeded by major aerospace companies.
1. No Input from the Airworthiness Authority:
Companies will design and build a prototype without consulting or getting buy-in from a flight clearance authority. So ultimately, the group that is going to give the approval for it to fly is not given any input on the path of getting it built. When there is buy-in up front the flight clearance approval process can take a relatively short period of time. However if there is not buy-in this can extend this process to months or potentially years. This costs the industry and US Government millions of dollars when you don’t have buy-in from the airworthiness authorities. At Platform Aerospace we brief the authorities upfront and get any input or updated requirements while showing them our concept and plan. In turn they give input and updated requirements early on, getting them more invested in the project at an early stage. The by product of this is that the flight clearance authorities are apart of the process and the airworthiness process goes much faster and is much less expensive, saving time and money.
Example: We Briefed NAVAIR in rebuilding the NRL P3 at VXS-1, working hand in hand with the class desk and TAEs in converting the aircraft to a Roll-on / Roll-off aircraft (otherwise known as MP3-Delta). We were able to go from design, analysis, build and flight within 12 months.
2. Inadequate Engineering Data Package
This can be anything as simple as a set of drawings to a full blown analysis package. When you don’t have any data and you are simply bolting things on and trying them out, when they fail, you have no data to see what when wrong and how to fix it. If this is your approach then you have no way to determine what next steps you would even start with to begin to fix or improve upon the design. So what ends up happening for the client is that they have a false expectation of price and timeline. They think that delays and cost overruns are due to the manufacturer or the engineering team but in reality it is the fact that it is difficult to manufacture a product that is not backed by repeatable data or manufacturable equipment. Upfront the client can spend a little more money and time, but our experience is that this ultimately results in a significant savings of both time and money over the life of the project.
Example: Right now the small drone / UAV industry (less than 55 lbs) is rampant with glorified toy drones that are being modified to do a host of missions and there is literally zero data on anything that is apart of the drone. Props, Landing gears, motors. etc have no data on hosts of things including shear strength.
3. No Collaboration between Engineers & Machinists.
Often engineers will come up with elaborate or elegant designs that solve a host of problems only to find out that the object cannot be manufactured with tools that exist on earth or it dramatically adds to the manufacturing time to do so. At Platform Aerospace we have our engineering department right next to our shop and the engineers know to include the machinists in at the beginning of the design process. This requires humility on both sides and the result is always a stronger product that can be manufactured faster and often requires less back and forth and re-designing.
Example: Many engineers do 90 degree turns on their designs. The dilemma is that few tools can accomplish this without adding significant amounts of time. This also can actually degrade the strength of the plate that is being machined as well. A solution to this is, have the design incorporate slight curves on its corners, then it saves significant time in manufacturing and makes the product stronger at the same time.