July 2, 2019
The 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base in California is using 3D printing technology to help maintain aircraft, including aging planes with difficult-to-obtain repair parts.
“As our airframes age and parts become more difficult to procure, the ability to cost-effectively reproduce those end item allows the units to maintain a higher mission capability rate with a lower cost,” said Steven Conway, 412th Maintenance Squadron. “Technology is rapidly outpacing our current manufacturing capabilities, for any manufacturing entity to remain competitive, they need to invest in the now, while looking to the future, otherwise, they will be left behind in a race that could potentially take decades to catch up in.”
According to an article on the Edwards website, the 412th Maintenance Squadron currently uses one Stratasys industrial plastic printer. The team has used the printer for part production and for fitting difficult repairs prior to manufacturing. The base also uses the printer for training purposes.
According to the article, the printers enable “maintainers to create one-off modifications of aircraft parts at reduced costs in terms of both time and materials to aid in the advancement of Edward’s unique test and evaluation mission.”
Using 3D printers could save time and costs for the maintenance team, particularly in the case of highly specialized parts or older parts that may not be readily available in the supply chain. Engineers can also create new designs as well as test them on site.
“Any organization or person in the Air Force could use 3D design and printing,” said Staff Sgt. Cameron Canupp, 412th Maintenance Squadron. “Any idea, from a new type of nozzle for fire trucks to firing mechanisms on a 70-year-old gun brought over from the museum. We are only limited by size and our imagination.”
Source: Edwards Air Force Base