In December 2020, AGILE Space Industries announced it was selected to build the 12 attitude control thrusters that will guide the Griffin Lander (led by Astrobotic) to the Moon in late 2023. The Griffin Lunar Lander will carry the NASA VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) and become the first American mission to the South Pole region of the Moon. Quality critical applications such as landing on the moon require traceability so that engineers can quickly identify problems, improve designs, and make sure they are shipping great hardware. For that, companies like AGILE turn to ion.
"This [ion] is really extraordinary software, it's like art" - Daudi Barnes, CTO at AGILE
AGILE manufactures state of the art rocket engines with industry best lead times by coupling rapid prototyping, and diagnostic testing and analysis. Additive manufacturing allows them to make lighter, cheaper, and more efficient parts with otherwise impossible geometries. The AGILE team knew they’d need a system to keep track of their manufacturing resources, so they developed an in-house stack of tools that would record their progress. While they were able to follow their work instructions, executions, and parts, it wasn’t a scalable solution and the team was quickly growing. Hearing about ion’s unique traceability feature for as-built records and ease of onboarding made adopting a new platform an easy decision.
Charlie Garcia is the Thruster Chief Engineer and Production Manager at AGILE Space Industries. He learned about ion from an article that discussed how the First Resonance manufacturing platform was inspired by CEO and Co-founder Karan Talati's time at SpaceX. “We started building ion after hearing about the painful, traditional methods used by people who are trying to innovate and deliver hardware at the same time. While at SpaceX, I felt this pain firsthand. In fact, we had to build around some of our systems to give us the flexibility for rapid changes while keeping the clarity for efficient production and quality needed for building something like rockets.” says Talati. ion brought the scalability and traceability that a team like AGILE needed, so in 2020, AGILE made the switch to ion.
ion has supercharged the AGILE team with its unique aBOMs, or the as-built bill of materials. aBOMs give granular traceability and access to process and part information down to the serial with details on who performed the action and when. Agile uses this to track everything from powder feedstock for it’s 3D printers to hot fire test data from it’s rocket engines. The way ion collates data saves engineers hours of information gathering and triaging, making it easy to grow a team without losing institutional knowledge along the way. “We could not have scaled our old system under any circumstances to 30 people. With ion, it was quick and easy to add all our team members. First Resonance’s rapid support also helped our team become rapid experts in using the tool” mentions Garcia. For AGILE, the ease of assembling the aBOM while in the assembly process is key to being able to move fast while getting the traceability they need to be able to quickly resolve issues, find parts, and ensure they are shipping great products to their customers. AGILE uses the aBOM to share information between groups, including supply chain, operations, manufacturing, and production.
“ion forms the basis of our quality management system, our IR&D data capture system, and our customer deliverable for engineering information data packages.” - Charlie Garcia
Since implementing ion, the team has grown exponentially and the importance of collecting build data has grown with them. The team estimates a savings of $17,000 in engineering hours within the first year of ion alone. That doesn't include the time and quality savings with aBOMs integrated with ion's issue system. “More importantly, ion has significantly improved the organization of our organization. We now have bandwidth to focus on other KPIs because we aren't spending as much time trying to figure out what parts are supposed to go in an engine.” says Garcia. Landing on the moon is no small feat - when AGILE makes history, they’ll know exactly how it happened with ion.