By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
“It’s faster than we thought it would come,” says the Founder of a local start-up that just opened its new additive manufacturing facility a few months ago near Hardin Valley in West Knoxville.
The company is Volunteer Aerospace LLC., founded by Norris native Jonaaron Jones with two partners – his wife (Rachel) and Devon Burkle. As the corporate name implies, its initial focus is on the aerospace industry, but the technology that the company is perfecting can and will support many other industries where low-rate production runs and functional prototyping are required.
In fact, Jones told us recently business is so strong that the company will be adding two additive manufacturing units to the two that existed when Volunteer Aerospace opened its new facility at 1719 Schaeffer Road.
So, what is it that this new start-up does?
“We use metal powder bed additive manufacturing processes to produce parts and products for the aerospace and defense industry,” Jones says. It’s a process that he has fine-tuned over the past four years, thanks to significant support from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, from which Jones earned his masters, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.
If it sounds a little complicated, it is, both in terms of the work that Volunteer Aerospace is doing and the agreements that had to be executed for work to even begin.
For its launch customers, the expectation was that the company would provide a reliable, high-quality, cost-effective additive solution. That’s exactly what it has been doing, utilizing a Concept Laser X-1000R machine.
“Laser powder bed equipment still requires modification to the equipment and processing parameters,” Jones explains. “To be able to use it (properly), you have to tailor the machine to build the part. This is where Volunteer Aerospace excels.”
How successful has Volunteer Aerospace been meeting requirements?
“We’ve recorded a 92 percent uptime with the 1000R that runs 24/7, 365 days a year,” Jones says. “That’s pretty phenomenal in the additive manufacturing industry.”
When Volunteer Aerospace opened in the new location, the 1000R was joined by the smaller Concept Laser M2. Now, even as the company continues to support its launch customers, Volunteer Aerospace is gearing-up to add two more M2s to support current and future customers.
“The M2 allows serialized production,” Jones explains, contrasting it to the larger 1000R which is geared to much smaller quantity runs. “Production lines (larger runs) are where we want to be.”
The three smaller machines are almost totally committed to printing parts for Thermal Defense Solutions, a Jonesborough-based start-up itself.
Volunteer Aerospace’s focus going forward will be on R&D, low rate production of parts, and manufacture of components that cannot be produced with typical manufacturing techniques.
“We’ve devoted everything we can into it,” Jones says. “It’s a big risk.”
That said, with existing purchase orders, he’s optimistic about the future. Volunteer Aerospace will add its first full-time, non-owner employee this month.