Today @AuManufacturing’s editorial series Excellence in maritime manufacturing looks at Anduril Industries’ Extra Large Autonomous Undersea Vehicle which is destined for local manufacture, and how manufacturing is helping the company to disrupt the defence sector.
Getting defence capabilities from the concept to final product stage can be a very time-consuming – manufacturing can follow years if not decades after proposals first are aired.
But one California company, which is linking with the Australian Defence Force to develop an Extra Large Autonomous Undersea Vehicle ((XL-AUV, pictured), is showing that time frames can be collapsed utilising new concepts of manufacturing.
The company has grown from nothing in 2017 to occupy six locations in Southern California,
Massachusetts, and Georgia totalling nearly 150,000 sq ft that have turned numerous prototypes into product being churned out in their thousands for defence customers.
And now Anduril will bring these manufacturing concepts to Australia – it is in negotiations for a US$100m co-funded design, development and manufacturing programme for XL-AUVs for the Royal Australian Navy.
Anduril has established an Asia Pacific operation based in Sydney with technology executive David Goodrich who is an adviser to Gilmour Space Technologies and Emesent as CEO.
The XL-AUV will be an affordable, autonomous, long endurance, multi-mission capable AUV, modular, customisable with a variety of payloads for missions such as advanced intelligence, infrastructure inspection, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting.
Anduril’s approach to development of the XL-AUV will deliver the vehicle at a fraction of the cost of existing undersea capabilities in radically lower timeframes.
Anduril Founder Palmer Luckey said: “There is a clear need for an XL-AUV built in Australia, for Australia.
“The XL-AUV will harness the latest developments in autonomy, edge computing, sensor fusion, propulsion and robotics to bring advanced capability to the Royal Australian Navy.”
A XL-AUV development programme envisages three prototypes delivered to the Royal Australian Navy in only three years.
In 2020, Anduril became the youngest company to win a programme with the United States Government since the end of the Korean War with its Autonomous Surveillance Towers (AST) programme.
Anduril also began developing an end-to-end counter-drone solution in 2019, which US Special Operations Command designated as its system of choice in a US$1B deal in 2022.
To speed to production Anduril makes no distinction between design and production engineering – they work as a single team and have access to production equipment during the design process.
Manufacturing engineer Dana Paz said: “Our mechanical and electrical engineers are iterating on their designs on a weekly or even daily basis.
“We work extremely closely with them to limit the number of hours between design and test.
“To enable such a rapid development cycle, our mechanical and electrical development lab has ‘one of everything’…from multi-axis machining, to sheetmetal fabrication, MIG and TIG welding, and 3D printing.”
This means an engineer can test a new part on Monday, update their CAD model that evening, have the new part built overnight, and be back out in the field testing as early as Tuesday morning, according to the company.
Data drives both design and production, with the whole process optimised for flexibility.
Though the company has strategically elevated the importance of manufacturing, it has not forgotten lessons from industries like automotive, medical devices, and consumer electronics.
“We are trying to manufacture complicated parts at scale. That is a difficult problem, but not an unsolved one.
“Many fundamental concepts of Lean Manufacturing, such as the division of labour, elimination of waste, and Kanban inventory control are directly applicable to Anduril.”