Additive Manufacturing and digitised design cut cycle time and guarantee quality


CT scan of a high reliability AM produced Sonobuoy Management Pod Release Lever

Specialist electrical and electronics engineering company Ultra Electronics Group operates primarily in defence and other highly-regulated markets, as a systems provider at Tier 3 and Tier 2 levels. It is focused on providing mission-specific, bespoke solutions and capability. Its core markets are North America, the UK and Australia. A substantial proportion of its work is with naval operations, in both surface and aerial roles.

New approaches, integrated teams 

Ultra is taking new approaches to traditional designs and bringing advanced commercial technology and design techniques into the military domain. It has fully integrated development teams, incorporating the different engineering functions and design for manufacture (DFM) engineers, working together collectively to develop novel solutions. This approach enables products to be made with fewer defects, because they designs are aligned with the manufacturing process more than ever before.

The deployment of tracking and detection solutions can sometimes be an urgent priority, for which aircraft-based systems can provide faster solutions than surface ships. Ultra has designed and demonstrated a system for air-launching of sonobuoys comprised of a multi-barrel array, with automated, wireless- controlled opening and closing of individual tubes.

Additive manufacturing and digitised design 

The sonobuoys themselves are made of direct metal laser sintered (DMLS) Additive Manufactured (AM) Inconel superalloy for high reliability under high stress. The aluminium housing would have been expensive, difficult and time-consuming to mill from a billet so it, too, is produced by DMLS AM. Selective laser sintering (SLS) AM was used to produce the nylon housing for lowerstress tubing, which reduced lead time and cost, and greatly reduced wastage of material.

Ultra designed the sonobuoy launch system with Autodesk Inventor. North Star Imaging was contracted to provide CT scanning of the entire assembly, to identify any material defects ahead of final manufacture.

“Using these processes enabled us to produce a demonstrator of the product in a very short space of time,” said Samuel Cleaver, Functional Team Lead – Electrical, Ultra Electronics, Command and Sonar Systems. “We have used the demonstrators in aircraft trials and plan to use all of these techniques in production runs, because of the time and cost savings.”

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