Commercial UAS manufacturer opens Texas facility

By Luke Geiver | February 18, 2016

Locating and opening an unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) commercial manufacturing facility in Mineral Wells, Texas, was an obvious choice for Travis Kunkel. “The industry is getting a lot busier and we have a lot of requests for quotes coming in,” he said. “Now that 2016 has rolled around, activity is picking up.”

With a background in manufacturing, project development and consulting that has taken Kunkel across the country for the past 10 years and allowed him to work for entities like Texas Instruments and IBM, Kunkel realized this year that the UAS industry is in need of a manufacturer that can perform research and development tasks quickly and get products out the door fast. According to Kunkel, founder of Newcastle Manufacturing, several platform and systems developers are roughly 90 percent complete with engineering and design and now need to bring their ideas to reality. “R&D is coming to the manufacturing floor. The need is starting to come out,” he said.

Kunkel’s Texas team is currently working on a handful of parts and control panels for large UAV developers. He is excited about the ability of his facility to offer something he believes others can’t. “Our elevator speech is that we are able to produce on our machines faster than our competitors,” he said.

The secret to speed lies in the manufacturing floor’s use of five axis functionality and machining, a system that allows its machines to move and work on parts from various positions. The position flexibility doesn’t require parts to be moved, shifted or repositioned during the production process. According to Kunkel, many facilities use three axis systems. By using the five axis approach, the Mineral Wells facility was able to complete a parts run in 17 minutes as opposed to the 2.5 hour time frame it would take using the three axis system.

In the future, Kunkel believes clients will also be drawn to his team’s ability to help during the full life-cycle of a project. He cites a new platform designer as a good example. “They might have the platform designed and need it tested. We can build it and put it through early testing cycles at the facilities we have,” adding, “we could do quick turnaround R&D before releasing it to the market.’

“When you combine all those things you can cut weeks and months out of the R&D development cycle because we can react to the issues associated with testing.”

To find continued success in the UAS space, Kunkel said his company will work to become a trusted entity that helps get products to market quickly while keeping customers supplied with production and assembly.

His day-to-day schedule may be an indication of how successful the company will actually be. “If I’m not in my office,” he said, “I’m on the manufacturing floor.”