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Autonomous drone designer and manufacturer, Fortem Technologies, is one of the leaders in airspace security and defense.  Through an advanced ecosystem of distributed radar, artificial intelligence and deep sensor integration, Fortems’ software detects unauthorized drones in a specific area and can alert personnel to the issue or autonomously eliminate those threats.  The Fortem DroneHunter® is the leading C-UAS interceptor in the world, which is designed and produced in the Fortem Technology facility located in Pleasant Grove, Utah.  When development began in early 2016, Fortem searched for a partner to help prototype parts that would fit a number of applications related to defense and commercial applications.  What began as a simple prototype project with Forecast 3D turned into much, much more when the HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology was introduced as a potential option for production.  With over 30+ components 3D printed on the DroneHunter with the MJF technology, Fortem is now able to produce parts on-demand and dramatically increase their speed to market.

CHALLENGE

Creating, developing, and producing a flying vehicle is no easy task.  The DroneHunter was no exception when Fortem Technologies released this unique product into the market in 2019 and had to reconsider traditional manufacturing methods.  Due to their low quantity, high value business model, Fortem was unsure whether tooling would be an efficient or reasonable way to produce parts for the UAV.  

“The cost of producing multiple injection molding tools would have been extremely expensive and limit our ability to make changes,” Ike Atkinson, Director of Manufacturing & Operations at Fortem Technologies said. “In my experience, it takes at least 3 months to get a mold designed and into production, and for every modification, of which there can be many, it tacks on another 2-4 weeks each time!”  While injection mold tooling is a perfect option for mass production, it is less efficient for low-volume quantities or specialized products that require tweaking and customizations.  With few reasonable alternatives, Fortem couldn’t justify the tooling cost, so they looked at 3D printing as an alternative.  

“We have used 3D printing for many years, mainly for prototyping,” Atkinson said.  Fortem Technologies owns and operates several 3D printing machines. “We were aware that 3D printing can be used for production.  However, we felt that we had to make sacrifices -- meaning FDM parts were strong enough but didn’t meet our cosmetic requirements and SLA parts looked great but didn’t have the necessary strength.”  Atkinson and his team decided to try something different and approached Forecast 3D for assistance.  

SOLUTION

Enter Forecast 3D, the official west coast experience center for HP Multi Jet Fusion technology and one of the largest additive manufacturing service providers in North America.  Considered to be a technology agnostic organization with over 50,000 square feet of 3D printing, CNC and production machinery, Forecast 3D is uniquely positioned to provide a multitude of engineering services on behalf of its clientele.  When Fortem Technologies approached F3D with their designs and ideas for 3D printing production parts, F3D knew that the final parts needed to exceed strength and cosmetic requirements.  They turned to their fleet of MJF printers and Nylon PA 12 material to solve the problem. 

In addition to the requirements stated above, the Nylon PA 12 material needed to pass IP56 waterproofing standards, be sealed to eliminate any dust concerns while having UV and chemical resistance properties.  Oh yes, Fortem needed to stay under budget.  “We were confident that the MJF technology and PA 12 material would do the trick,” Justin Swartz, Director of Strategic Business and Advanced Manufacturing Solutions at Forecast 3D said. “Once we decided on the process, we committed to delivering high quality parts as quickly and as cost effectively as possible. Of course making money is important but we know that by building relationships with our customers, we tend to have better results collectively.” 

There are 30+ printed MJF parts on the DroneHunter®

Long story short, the Nylon PA 12 material worked.  Now, on a single DroneHunter there are 30+ parts printed from MJF equipment that Forecast 3D provides on a consistent basis.  The majority of these parts are complex and specialized mounts used for antennas, parachutes, radios, and net gun holders.  Not only does this prove that 3D printing is a viable technology for end-use production parts but it has also provided added benefits such as the flexibility to quickly modify new designs and customize on the fly to gain new business.  Atkinson references the power of that flexibility, “oftentimes, we engage in contracts with the government and other high profile customers that have specific requirements.  3D printing allows us to adapt and gives us a better chance to win new business.”  

LOOKING FORWARD

Fortem Technologies has experienced back-to-back years of success since the inception of the DroneHunter and anticipates more opportunities in the coming years.  Working with additive manufacturing has equipped their engineering team with the ability to quickly create new designs and now gives them a low volume production method that saves the company time and money.  Although there are many AM service providers on the market, Fortem has been satisfied with the relationship with Forecast 3D. Atkinson references the impersonal responses he received when searching for a production partner, “we wanted to find a true production partner so that we could maintain consistency and manage our business more effectively.  Forecast 3D responded immediately, provided the intimate touch we were looking for and we haven’t looked back since.” 

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