The U.S. Air Force, yesterday, announced the use of certified replacement aircraft parts made from industrial polymer 3D printer. The 60th Maintenance Squadron at Travis AFB, Calif., is the Air Force’s first field unit with an industrial-sized 3D printer certified to produce non-structural aircraft parts.
The Air Force Base has installed a Stratasys F900 3D printer, which is capable of printing plastic parts up to 36-by-24-by-36 inches, using Ultem 9085, a flame-retardant high-performance thermoplastic regarded as more flexible, dense and stronger than typical plastic.
The printer, certified by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Force Advanced Technology and Training Center, offers new opportunities to create needed parts while saving time and money, an Air Force statement said on Monday.
According to Master Sgt. John Higgs, 60th MXS aircraft metals technology section chief, “It brings us a capability that we’ve never had before. There’s so many possibilities available to us right now. We’re just scratching the surface.”
He added, “The Joint Engineering Data Management Information Control System is where we go to download already approved blueprints. Now, the University of Dayton Research Institute is working with the engineers to get those parts they developed into JEDMICS.”
Higgs revealed a startling fact that, “The latrine covers we just printed usually take about a year from the time they’ve been ordered to the time they’ve been delivered. We printed two of the covers in 73 hours. We have the capability to print parts on a production scale for a lot more customers,” Higgs said. “The overall goal is to generate products for every organization to support whatever needs they may have.”
Typically, parts that don’t keep the aircraft from performing their mission don’t have as high as a priority for replacement. Now with parts in production, there’s a new sense of urgency within the organization.
Higgs continued, “We already have a list from the Air Force level to help them print and to backfill some supplies. This will ensure other bases can replace items sooner than expected with our help.”
Ultimately, the maintenance shop wants to use the printer for more than just aircraft parts.
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