Special Report: Australia is quickly becoming the centre of cutting edge drone design and manufacturing as defence and infrastructure sector begin to realise its potential.

While much song and dance has been made about Australia’s manufacturing capabilities or lack thereof, the country is quickly making a name for itself in the manufacturing of cutting edge Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).

In a move to cement Australia as a central hub for drone manufacturing Quickstep Holdings (ASX:QHL), Australia’s largest independent manufacturer of aerospace composites has partnered with Leading Australian drone manufacturer and solutions provider, Carbonix to manufacture aerostructures for its Volanti drones.

Volanti is Carbonix’s all electric fixed-wing VTOL UAV (Vertical Take-Off and Landing Un-crewed Aerial Vehicle). The deal is the foundation of a broader manufacturing partnership which will, in future, include all Carbonix platforms.


Overseas markets taking notice

Quickstep is a leader in delivering advanced composite solutions to the global aerospace and defence sectors. It already manufactures high complexity composite components for aircraft such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, C-130J, F/A-18 and F-15E, working with several high-profile customers including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems.

It’s current foray into UAS manufacturing will see airframe components for the Volanti aircraft manufactured at Quickstep’s Geelong facility, allowing Carbonix to initially fulfil an order from Anduril, the U.S. defence tech startup founded by tech entrepreneur Palmer Luckey that recently won a $US1 billion counter-drone contract from the US Special Operations Command.

Steve Osborne, Quickstep Applied Composites Business Leader said “Manufacturing the Volanti aerostructure at our Geelong site is a great first step in what we look forward to being a long-term partnership across the Carbonix range of UAS. We’re excited to be a core part of their export success, taking Australian built UAS capability to the world”


Local production ensuring quality

Carbonix currently assembles and integrates all its UAS platforms in-house at its Sydney facility.  The manufacturing deal will immediately ramp-up production of Volanti airframes. Quickstep’s manufacturing processes provide scalable airframe production of Carbonix’s long range platforms, and their aerospace manufacturing experience and quality management systems will deliver the high levels of quality assurance our customers expect.

“With state-of-the-art facilities in New South Wales and Victoria, Carbonix is thrilled to be partnering with Quickstep and their highly trained and enthusiastic workforce, renowned for their innovative approach”, said Carbonix CEO, Philip van der Burg.

“Quickstep’s global reputation for their quality and expertise in aerospace manufacturing is critical in ensuring the highest standards we expect to deliver to our customers as well as continuing our path to aircraft certification”, Philip went on to say.


Commercial opportunities taking off

The partnership comes as the realisation of drone use in commercial settings takes a step closer to becoming a reality with US drone manufacturer Matternet securing the first-ever standard Type Certificate issued by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for its M2 drone.  The certification is a win for the UAS industry and signals that regulators are ready to move away from waivers and exemptions, and work towards establishing universal standards.

Australian companies such as Elsight (ASX: ELS) with its Halo platform are well poised to capitalise on the industry’s maturity, having partnered with nascent Parcel Delivery Players such as Droneup in the increasingly competitive drone delivery space.

For Carbonix, the greater opportunity lies in delivering aerial data capture solutions for major linear infrastructure players. Closing a $6.3 million funding round and bagging a contract to monitor Ausgrid’s power networks last year, its drones provide a cheap and carbon friendly solution to the current high risk manned aircraft operations that are undertaken to routinely inspect and repair assets in remote locations.

Carbonix CEO, Philip van der Burg explains, “Power generation and large scale mining operations require vast infrastructure that often lies in remote and hard to access areas. Now that we can scale up production with Quickstep, our drones with their BVLOS capabilities and 6 hours flight time will become an integral solution to the maintenance of these assets across Australia and the globe”.


This article was developed in collaboration with Carbonix, a Stockhead advertiser at the time of publishing.

This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.