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AeroDef Insider Insights

Q&A: Grant Lawton

SME recently spoke with Grant Lawton, engineer at W.L. Gore & Associates, to discuss how to better understand cable performance in tethered drone applications. He specializes in cable engineering and design that supports aerospace data and power systems, including Ethernet, Fibre Channel, FireWire, and Databus, among many other protocols. He is a featured presenter at this year’s AeroDef event.

AeroDef Manufacturing® is an aerospace manufacturing and defense manufacturing conference and exposition, showcasing the industry’s most advanced technologies. Speakers and presenters from the highest levels of government and industry will share their vision of the potential of technology, collaboration and public policy to transform manufacturing. Over the next few weeks, will share insights from some of the featured AeroDef speakers. To hear their full presentations, meet them face to face, and to experience the pairing of high-concept, integrated solutions with real-world applications, we invite you to attend AeroDef Manufacturing April 29-May 2 in Long Beach, California.

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How does one find the best balance in efficiency performance, capabilities, and design in cable materials for tethered drones, based on the type of application it’s engineered to perform?

This is an engineered decision. In any application there are always priorities that determine how trade-offs can be made.  Each drone model will have a distinct steady state power requirement related to its size and payload.  In general, the smallest, lightest cable that can support the power is the best choice.   Ultimately, the lighter a cable can be for the needed power capacity, the higher the drone can fly to perform the below missions.  The cable also must operate in inclement weather and with hundreds of feet of tether exposed, the cable must keep itself from soaking up water (or other fluids for that matter) which will weigh down the drone.  These missions need a tough cable to make sure cable maintenance does not eat up money and time.

Given your vast experience, in the military and in the commercial space, developing high performance aerospace applications, what would you say is the biggest challenge facing the industry in the next ten years?

The biggest challenge will be keeping up with advancing technology. Every day the industry is innovating fantastic new systems and ideas. From digital flight controls to More Electric Aircraft (MEA) to drone technology. So many of these ideas are around electrical power data and controls which need high performance wire and cables. The activity around drone technology large, small, tethered and free is impressive with startups and incubators working on great new ideas.

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What are the stakes of neglecting the importance of how tethered drone cables will affect the future of the aerospace and defense industry?

It will limit the potential. In many cases the system designers are great at designing the drone but know very little about tangentially related components. It’s entirely possible that a system designer simply uses ordinary materials because they do not know any better? The result could be there drone only flies 2/3rds as high as it could, or the cable breaks every 5 uses, or overheats and melts down to name just a few real problems we have seen.

Where do you see the future of wire and cable’s technology and capabilities heading in the next five years?

The industry is going to challenge wire and cable technology to be tougher, lighter and smaller all the while dealing with higher power, higher voltage and higher heat.

What’s the most important take-away you will dive into during your session?

There are always choices to be made is the most important take away. Understanding the choices, and consequences will allow the innovators get the most capability out of their systems.


Hear more from Grant Lawton during his presentation, “Understanding Cable Performance in Tethered Drone Applications,” at AeroDef on Wednesday, May 1, at 10:30 AM in Room 203C.