With 3D Sand Printer US Air Force Makes Aluminium Parts In-house

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With 3D Sand Printer US Air Force Makes Aluminium Parts In-house
Sand 3D Printer/ Source: Sculpteous

Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, home to the 76th Commodities Maintenance Group (CMXG) and the Reverse Engineering and Critical Tooling (REACT) Lab, has recently bolstered its aircraft maintenance capabilities by introducing in-house 3D sand printer for aluminum parts. Leveraging cutting-edge technology, including 3D sand printer casting molds from sand, this initiative allows the base to cast aluminum components weighing up to 120 pounds in its newly established foundry. The 76th CMXG has set its sights on achieving Grade A castings for 3D sand printer, representing a near-flawless level of quality, as it continually refines its processes.

Ensuring Aircraft Readiness through In-House Casting

One of the primary motivations behind this endeavor is to ensure the continuous operation of aircraft, even when facing challenges in sourcing replacement parts for legacy aircraft. As these aging aircraft reach the end of their operational life, finding suitable suppliers willing to bid on contract requests for proposals becomes increasingly difficult. To address this issue, the 76th CMXG has embraced the concept of in-house casting to bridge the gap in parts availability.

Michael Thompson, Foundry Process Engineer at the 76th CMXG, underscores the critical role of in-house 3D sand printer in sustaining aircraft operations. He emphasizes that the inability to procure a relatively inexpensive casting should not be the reason to ground a multi-million-dollar aircraft. This strategic shift empowers the base to take control of its supply chain for critical components.

The Innovative Process of Using 3D Sand Printer

Within the newly established foundry, the process commences with the creation of molds through 3D sand printer, utilizing sand infused with a binding agent. These molds, resembling denser versions of florist foam, serve as the templates for casting. In the foundry, aluminum ingots are melted down and poured into these molds, subsequently allowed to cool. Once the casting has solidified, it can be machined and refined to achieve a finished product ready for installation.

Ryan Fowler, a Materials Engineer at REACT, highlights the continuous expansion of manufacturing capabilities at the REACT Lab over the past two years. While working towards certifying metal printed components as airworthy, the collaboration between REACT and 76th CMXG simplifies the approval process since the original components were cast. The transition to 3D sand printer requires a Source Approval Request, streamlining the certification pathway.

A Glimpse into the Future of Aircraft Maintenance

The 76th CMXG anticipates substantial growth in its capabilities over the next three years as part of their foundry expansion plan. Presently, the scope of producible parts includes critical components such as bearing housings, fuel fittings, and various parts essential for propulsion, avionics, and control systems.

The future investments outlined in their expansion plan encompass the addition of a new oven for pre-heating sand moulds, enhancing process control, and enabling the production of Grade A quality castings. Furthermore, introducing a cutting-edge investment casting cell equipped with robotic capabilities will facilitate automated shell casting. This advanced process of 3D sand printer employs robotics to create wax models for ceramic casting molds, resulting in intricate and highly precise castings suitable for use in intricate components like fuel pumps, control linkages, and systems requiring precise air and fluid flow control.

Also read: Japan to Have Lab-Grown Fish via 3D Printed Seafood Firm Investment

While these castings have yet to find their place on aircraft, Michael Thompson envisions their deployment in the near future, contingent upon successful airworthiness testing. Moreover, the 76th CMXG is actively engaged in preliminary activities to secure National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program (NADCAP) certification for the foundry. Their goal is to achieve NADCAP certification by June 2024, aligning with the Group’s AS9110 certification renewal.

With 3D Sand Printer US Air Force Makes Aluminium Parts In-house
US Air Force casts aluminum parts in-house/ Source:

Ultimately, the mission of the 76th CMXG remains steadfast in its commitment to be the premier aerospace maintenance operation within the United States Air Force. Their unwavering dedication to flexible and responsive manufacturing and repair of aerospace components using 3D sand printer reinforces their vital role in supporting the readiness of the nation’s airpower.

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