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3D future installed at YARS

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Noah J. Tancer
  • 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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 off 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, which means your family has to stop what they’re doing to drive out to the middle of nowhere to deliver one of your 50 new cabinet doors.

Given the logistical hurdles, it’d likely be easier to tape the door back together, deal with it or go home and call the trip a loss.

This is a real issue the Air Force faces on a regular basis. 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 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 matter 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 comes in.

On Aug. 5, 2019, the first AAM part to be fitted on a C-130H Hercules aircraft, a utility hydraulic panel, was installed on one of Youngstown Air Reserve Station’s C-130s.

YARS 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 Middle, 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 fleets.

Chief Master Sgt. Darin Wesoloski, the fabrication flight chief assigned to the 910th Maintenance Squadron, helped bring AAM to the 910th MXS’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,” said Wesoloski. “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.