Imagine you’re camping in the woods in your favorite 1982 off-road, full-suite recreational vehicle. One day you close your kitchen cabinet door a little too hard and it falls of the hinges and cracks in half.
You are miles away from civilization, so you make some calls and find out parts for your RV model haven’t been produced for 10 years. The provider is willing to temporarily restart production, but you have to purchase at least 50 spare doors.
To make things worse, the parts will take a month to manufacture and can’t be shipped to your campsite. That means your family has to stop what they are doing to drive out of the middle of nowhere to get of one of your 50 new cabinet doors.
Given the logistical hurdles, it would likely be easier to tape the door back together, deal with it or go home and call the trip a loss.
The Air Force faces situations like this on a regular basis. But unlike your RV, a multi-million dollar military aircraft in a deployment zone can’t be safely repaired with tape and it can’t leave because it has a mission to complete. The only option is for the plane to remain grounded until the needed parts are delivered and the necessary repairs are made. The process can greatly impede the mission.
With Advanced Additive Manufacturing, aircraft parts can be 3D printed in the field and installed in a manner of hours for a fraction of the cost. But before a part can be field printed, someone has to test it.
That’s where the 910th Airlift Wing, Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, comes in.
On Aug. 5, the first AAM part fitted on a C-130H Hercules aircraft – a utility hydraulic panel – was installed on one of Youngstown’s C-130s.
Youngstown participated as a proof-of-concept testing base for the University of Dayton Research Institute, which was contracted by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
The AFLCMC is responsible for tech transition for Air Force sustainment. The panel was printed through fused deposition modeling at the Air Force Advanced Technology and Training Center in Georgia. UDRI designed, prepped and delivered the panel. Fused deposition modeling uses thermoplastics heated to their melting point to create a three-dimensional object layer by layer.
The utility hydraulic panel is a high-wear, low-risk, non-flight essential part with a high replacement demand within the Air Force’s C-130 fleet.
Chief Master Sgt. Darin Wesoloski, the fabrication flight chief assigned to the 910th Maintenance Squadron, helped bring AAM to the squadron’s fabrication shop.
“The ability to print the parts we need enables us to meet the demand of the customer now, versus waiting for the process of finding a manufacturer capable of producing the part,” Wesoloski said. “The typical way of manufacturing is costly and time-consuming.”
The Air Force’s 3D capability is still in its infancy, but with the 910th Airlift Wing and other installations’ help, it’s starting to take its first steps. #ReserveReform #ReserveReady
(Tancer is assigned to the 910th Airlift Wing’s public affairs office.)