Aug 21, 2018 | By Thomas

A team of U.S. Marines in Maryland 3D printed landing gear component that attached to the door of the F-35 stealth fighter aircraft. The Marines were able to replicate it for 9 cents, and it will save $70,000 in costs per jet.

Sam Pratt, an engineer with Naval Sea Systems Command, discusses the capabilities of 3-D printing with service members aboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) while underway in the Pacific Ocean, April 7, 2018.  (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bernadette Wildes/Released)

The aerospace and defense industry is increasingly using additive manufacturing to reduce material costs, decrease labor content, and increase availability of parts at point of use. The part in question was a small landing gear component that mounts on the landing gear door; as the landing gear door closes it presses the landing gear into the latch. Though a small and simple part, the only conventional means of replacing the part was to order the entire landing gear door - a process that’s time-consuming and expensive. Using 3D printing, a team of engineers from Combat Logistics Battalion 31 (CLB-31) in Carderock Division of Naval Surface Warfare Center was able to have the part printed, approved for use and installed within a matter of days.

“You can’t buy the piece separate from the landing gear door which is a cost of $70,000," said Sam Pratt, Mechanical Engineer at the Carderock Additive Manufacturing Project Office who provided the technical support to the team. "By having the capabilities to print in the field, we were able to replicate the part for a cost of roughly 9 cents."

Pratt was assigned to analyze how 3D printers performed in shipboard conditions and also to train CLB-31 Marines on Solidworks, when he was asked by the maintenance platoon officer to help create a replacement part for a landing gear door.

“I was with the maintenance platoon in South Korea training Marines from CLB-31 on the processes of drafting a design and how to apply it to printed items,” Pratt said. “I was told they were having issues with printing a part needed to get the F-35 operational again. Their officer suggested teaming up to see what we could come up with as a whole, which turned out to be a great opportunity for collaboration.”

Sgt. Adrian Willis, a computer and telephone technician with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepares to print a 3-D model aboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) while underway in the Pacific Ocean, April 7, 2018.  (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bernadette Wildes/Released)

The team designed the part before Pratt arrived, but were having sizing issues. "The 3D printer they had bought was a machine used primarily by hobbyists, which wasn’t ideal for this type of project, but they were also using a free software tool called Blender, which is more typically used for special effects work to design movie and game characters," Pratt explained. "The software tool isn’t really built for the types of accurate measurements needed for engineering since it is focused on artistic designs. I thought about how to design the part so it would fit and function properly."

The original part was plastic; the replacement part was made of a material called Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol (PETG), a tough, high-strength material with low shrinkage and a beautiful finish.

A 3D printer belonging to Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, prints tangible objects aboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) while underway in the Pacific Ocean, March 22, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Stormy Mendez/Released)

Marines have created a new policy for 3D printed parts authorized to be installed on on-ground vehicles, and each each new 3D printed part is approved by the Marine Systems Command (MSC).

“On ground vehicles the policies are pretty straight forward," Pratt said. "If it is not a critical part that will break the vehicle, then try to print an adequate replacement part for it. Aircrafts by nature are a lot more restrictive. There are airworthiness concerns, so when trying to print a part, you really have to know that the part is good so you don’t put your pilots and flight crews in danger.”

Pratt believes additive manufacturing will be used more often to make replacement parts. “There are already about 85-90 parts currently approved to print for ground vehicles, so it is as easy as going online, downloading the file and printing the part.”

“We are working on getting more material capabilities out to the field, in particular the ability to print metal,” Pratt said. “We can use it in a laboratory setting, but the machines aren’t ready for the field yet. They are fragile, the materials are dangerous and its generally challenging. Once this is possible it opens up a huge opportunity to print functional parts for vehicles.”

 

 

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Jon Bourgeois wrote at 8/28/2018 7:35:13 PM:

Mr. Marnin, You ever went to a car dealer and they told you you couldn't get a replacement part for whatever it was, but instead you had to buy the whole assembly? That is what is happening here. The real story is that the Marines are finding innovative uses for 3D printing. The military also has a suggestion system and if these maintainers submitted this idea they will probably get a nice check out of it!!!!

David Marnin wrote at 8/27/2018 7:02:42 AM:

Pure BULLSHIT!! If the part could be removed from the door for replacement, than it should have been possible to have it in stock. It is shameful for the logistic system not to allow it. This is just like the C-5 kettles that cost 500$ or so. I thought those days are over - apparently not. This is not an achievement - it is a spotlight on a bad logistic system



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