Leading the charge

Foster Ferguson, global director of aerospace, Stratasys
Foster Ferguson, global director of aerospace, Stratasys

Heading up aerospace for 3D printing solutions company Stratasys, company global director of aerospace, Foster Ferguson discusses his expectations for the future of the aerospace industry.

While raising my right hand to serve in the US Marine Corps nearly 25 years ago, little did I imagine that my journey would lead me to a career in 3D printing solutions, facing some of the most challenging issues in the aerospace industry. As we work to modernise the industry’s supply chain, I can’t help but reflect on the various deployed logistics adventures that brought me here and the realisation that there must be a better way to support our war fighters, especially with the tremendous leaps in technology.

One aspect of this journey that truly captivated me was the adoption of additive manufacturing (AM) as a supply chain and maintenance repair solution. The Marine Corps' early adoption of AM for various ground platforms, from artillery to communication equipment, demonstrated its potential and benefits. Interestingly, it was Stratasys 3D printers that we enlisted as a capability, mobilising them to training locations for maintenance and repair purposes.

Upon retiring from the Marine Corps, I gratefully accepted the opportunity to work on government projects with Stratasys, given the transformative impact and potential AM technology had on our supply chains. Soon after, I embraced the transition to the Global Director of Aerospace role, collaborating with industry giants like Boeing, Airbus, BAE, Lockheed Martin, and others. As we collaborate with some of the most brilliant minds in the aerospace industry, we provide a supportive relationship while fine-tuning solutions to meet the unique requirements, specifications, tolerances, and mechanical properties.

With AM now a well-established technology, our focus lies in refining processes, procedures, and fostering technology adoption - with hardware, software, and materials. Stratasys has firmly established its ability to accurately and consistently 3D print polymers, making software and advanced material development our primary concerns, all the while building user confidence.

A responsive supply chain is the compelling platform driving AM adoption forward in the aerospace industry, igniting leaders to make the decision to adopt AM as a solution. Our task as an AM solutions provider is to instil confidence in these leaders by developing aerospace-specific procedures, standards, and raising awareness about the technology's capabilities. We are keenly focused on this task, and we are committed to helping aerospace engineers design specifically for AM to maximise its potential.

The future of AM in aerospace production involves the development of software tools that can monitor and provide feedback during the build to meet industry demands. Extensive post-testing is the most significant barrier that impedes adoption today. Moreover, progress in materials and system accuracy will enable us to achieve extreme tolerances and fulfil the mechanical application requirements of aerospace customers, especially in space exploration. Although we have made incredible leaps, with over 300 parts in the Orion space capsule for testing, and unmanned DoD programmes fully integrating flight parts, there is still tremendous growth potential. Lightweighting for space is also critical, as every kilogram sent to space costs $20,000 in fuel, making it imperative to find AM weight-minimising solutions without compromising structural integrity.

Presently, the aerospace industry is experiencing significant transformations, with NASA, Blue Origin, and SpaceX working towards the commercialisation of space travel. The pursuit of supersonic travel is also underway, and we are thrilled to have partnered with Boom Technology for several years, who have successfully used Stratasys 3D printed materials in their XB-1 demonstrator and plan to begin production of Overture in 2024.

In conclusion, my journey through the aerospace and defence industry has been one of continuous innovation and growth. From early experiences in the Marine Corps to my current role at Stratasys, the transformative power of additive manufacturing in revolutionising supply chains and advancing aerospace technology is clear. As we move forward, the key lies in refining processes, embracing new materials, and continuing to build confidence in the potential of the technology, propelling the aerospace industry into a new era.




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