Apr 20, 2016 | By Benedict

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are using 3D printers to restore or recycle decades-old equipment, with the Israeli Air Force (IAF) benefitting most fully from the initiative. The IAF’s Aerial Maintenance Unit (AMU) is presently 3D printing replacement parts for aircraft up to 30 years old.

Given the astronomical amounts of money required to build new aircraft, it makes sense for pilots, airlines, and military forces to get as many air miles as possible out of their existing planes. That’s why the Israeli Air Force is using new technologies—3D printing included—to keep planes in the air for 20 or even 30 years.

Speaking to the Times of Israel, a senior officer associated with the AMU explained how 3D printing and other new technologies have been harnessed in order to refurbish equipment, helping the military to save money and potentially produce better equipment than newly built alternatives. “In many ways, we have become the world center of technology to refurbish equipment,” said the officer.

According to the source, even the original manufacturers of the aircraft, Boeing and Lockheed included, have visited the AMU, located on the Tel Nof Air Base in central Israel, to see how staff are using 3D printing to restore old equipment. Some restorations, it is said, have been carried out with such success that the planes fly better than they did at the time of their initial deployment, and will last another decade or so before requiring further restoration or recall. The AMU’s objective is to keep a plane operating, at the top of its game, for as long as 50 years.

All images: Times of Israel

When the AMU receives an aircraft on which to work, it performs a huge refurbishment, upgrading virtually every internal system. The result is a fleet of 1980s-looking Israeli planes which purportedly fly as well as those being built in 2016. “We convert the entire command system of the plane to digital technology, install new information screens, change the wiring–you name it,” said the officer. “The 300 plus people we have on staff–which include everyone from new recruits in their mandatory service to civilian engineers–put in a million and half man-hours of work a year, and we produce planes that are 80% cheaper than the equivalent planes from manufacturers.”

The IAF has, for several years, been using 3D printing to produce replacement parts for old equipment. Just last year, it acquired an industrial 3D printer from an unspecified US supplier, which it used to manufacture sub-one-meter plastic components. For 30-year-old planes, many replacement parts are difficult or impossible to find, so recreating those parts using CAD software and 3D printers is the next-best solution. Before 3D printing was introduced, the IAF had to hire a chain of engineers, designers, and manufacturers in order to procure even the smallest replacement part, a costly process that has now been all but eliminated thanks to additive manufacturing.

“Now, we use a 3D camera to assemble a model of whatever part is needed, upload the data to the printer, and a few hours later we have the exact item we need, cut to the specifications we need to ensure the integrity of a plane,” said the officer. “Currently we have printers that produce plastic polymers that are as strong as aluminum, and they perform very well in the air. We are currently working on a project with Ben-Gurion University and the Office of the Chief Scientist to develop printers for metal, especially titanium, which is an important material for fighter planes.”

Techniques employed by the IAF are becoming an international standard, with the US Air Force, South Korean Ministry of Defense, and other national military forces beginning to use 3D printing to keep planes flying for longer.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to

3ders.org Feeds 3ders.org twitter 3ders.org facebook   

About 3Ders.org

3Ders.org provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive