6–10 January 2020
Hyatt Regency Orlando,
Orlando, Florida

Progress Seen Toward On-Demand Manufacturing


Moderator Heather Bulk, CEO and co-founder, Special Aerospace Services and SAS Manufacturing; Tony Gingiss, CEO, OneWeb Satellites; Robert Gold, director of technology and manufacturing industrial base, U.S. Office of the Deputy Director of Research and Engineering for Research and Technology; Jeff Miller, senior technical fellow for production engineering, Boeing

by Ben Iannotta, Aerospace America editor-in-chief

AIAA SCITECH FORUM, San Diego, Jan. 7, 2019 — Members of the “Enabling the Replicator” panel described some of the work underway across sectors of the aerospace industry to make the replicator of “Star Trek” fame a reality.

In the space sector, “the demands are growing; the pace and cadence that we need to deliver is growing on a daily basis,” said moderator Heather Bulk, CEO and co-founder of Special Aerospace Services and SAS Manufacturing in Colorado. “Instead of pushing back, we’re saying, ‘How can we lean into it?’” Bulk said.

Another company leaning into the demand is OneWeb Satellites, a joint manufacturing venture formed a little over three years ago by Airbus and OneWeb to produce OneWeb’s planned constellation of satellites. The first satellites are scheduled for launch next month, said Tony Gingiss, CEO of OneWeb Satellites.

Gingiss said OneWeb will be “one of many” customers for the venture, which aims to increase production from 20 OneWeb satellites a month to two a day at a facility in Florida. Gingiss compared that rate to aircraft manufacturing. The satellites scheduled for launch were made in Toulouse, France, however.


Participants in the panel discussion "Enabling the Replicator,” Jan. 7 at the 2019 AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition (AIAA SciTech 2019) in San Diego.

Gingiss said OneWeb represents a trend in the space industry toward getting satellites out the door faster. Referring to the company’s production work over the past three years, he said, “I’ve been on programs where three years is the time frame from PDR [preliminary design review] to CDR [critical design review].”

However, Gingiss said, the company’s manufacturing processes do not center heavily on robotics.

“You know what the most flexible robot is? A human being,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Defense is also in on the action with a digital engineering strategy that the service branches are preparing to implement. An overarching goal is to improve efficiency along the pathway from development to production.

“We still have a ways to go as an enterprise to smooth out the transition from engineering to manufacturing,” said Robert Gold, director for technology and manufacturing industrial base in the U.S. Office of the Deputy Director of Research and Engineering for Research and Technology.

Gold gave a glimpse of where the Pentagon wants to go regarding the industrial base. He said the DOD is not yet at a point where it can ask for “complex microcircuits” and have them manufactured anywhere in the world.

He said noncritical parts for aircraft are being 3D-printed but that there is “still a problem with airworthiness.”

Boeing’s Jeff Miller, senior technical fellow for production engineering, offered a vision of humans and robots working collaboratively as “co-bots.” But he said “challenges are keeping the systems both safe and productive.”

Machine vision and the concept of the digital twin as an enabler for automation shows great promise, Miller said, adding that resolution is a challenge. He cautioned against “garbage in, garbage out.”

Watch the full video for more details.

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