US Airforce adopts Additive Manufacturing to overcome supply chain challenges

US Airforce adopts Additive Manufacturing to overcome supply chain challenges

AM Chronicle Editor

Air Force officials in Virginia recently used Additive Manufacturing to manufacture a component that was required to bring critical refuelling equipment back into action after nearly a year of inactivity.

Officials usually order new military vehicle and device parts before the ones that are already in use break or need to be replaced. However, modern limits on the United States’ and the world’s supply chains, exacerbated by the coronavirus epidemic, meant that critical components were not as readily available in recent years. A senior airman’s innovative approach utilising Additive Manufacturing resulted in cost savings and enhanced capabilities at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.”

Air Force officials in Virginia recently 3D printed a piece that was required to bring critical refuelling equipment back into action after nearly a year of inactivity.

During a recent staff meeting at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, 633rd Logistics Readiness Squadron Fuels Training Supervisor Senior Airman Houston Sasser overheard colleagues questioning Air Force leadership about a supply chain issue that was causing the high-lift, a vertical-extension platform for refuelling operations, to be inactive for an extended period of time.

The flame arrestor, which is designed to prevent fire threats with combustible fuel-air mixes, is one of the high-safety lift’s measures. The flame arrestor cap failed, but replacements were out of the question.

After hearing the concerns of the staff, Sasser proposed employing 3D printing to produce a less priced and more robust flame arrestor cover.

Operators can create geometrically precise, custom components using the sophisticated manufacturing method at a far faster rate than traditional vendors.

Multiple military institutions are investigating and implementing this advanced manufacturing option. For example, the Naval Surface Warfare Center last month awarded contracts to select contractors to pursue unique prototype projects using 3D printing. Aside from Defense Department components, other government agencies have turned to developing technologies for health-related and other purposes.

With the help of logistics readiness leadership, Sasser was able to develop and manufacture the required item in about 5 hours. The new components with increased structural reinforcement cost the Air Force only about 25 cents. The term “senior airman” was developed by the author for the concept and solution.

Macdonald and 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs Chief of Media Operations Mike Reeves would not confirm the number of 3D printers on the base, nor did they discuss future applications.

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