Jul 12, 2016 | By Alec

It looks like 3D printing is becoming more and more commonplace within the U.S. Air Force. Back in January, the Air Force approved the first ever 3D printed components for E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance aircraft, and they are about to explore a much wider range of 3D printing solutions as well. This is made possible by a $10 million America Makes grant that has just been awarded to the University of Dayton Research Institute, which will be used to develop 3D printing solutions for aircraft maintenance and repair procedures through a Cooperative Agreement (CA) with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

This huge grant was just awarded at an event at the Youngstown State University (YSU), during which U.S. Representative Tim Ryan and officials from America Makes, YSU, and the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) discussed the impact of new 3D printing innovations on the Air Force and other research initiatives. America Make is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute that is affiliated with YSU. Acting as the national accelerator for 3D printing innovations, it has been one of the leading partners for numerous ongoing high tech 3D printing research projects since being founded in 2012.

Specifically, UDRI has been awarded a Directed Project Opportunity focused on maturing 3D printing procedures for aircraft maintenance. Driven by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), America Makes will give the UDRI $8 million in AFRL funding, with the AFRL providing a further $2.87 million in matching cost share – taking the complete tally up to $10.87 million.

This remarkable grant was first announced during a special event at the University of Dayton in April, and will also affect a large collection of other institutes and partners from the Ohio region. YSU will be involved as the co-leader of the technical efforts, while Bastech Inc., Case Western Reserve University, Deloitte Services, DRT Mfg. Co., GE Aviation, Humtown Products, M-7 Technologies, Slice Manufacturing Studios, the Youngstown Business Incubator, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) and the 910th Airlift Wing will also be involved.

But that’s not all, as a host of 3D printing partners will also provide their expertise. This includes experts from 3D Systems, the American Foundry Society, Boeing, Honeywell International Inc., Lockheed Martin, the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, Optomec, Pennsylvania State University, Raytheon, and the University of Northern Iowa. The Air Force will be represented by officials from the three Air Logistics Complexes located at Robins Air Force Base (AFB) in Georgia, Hill AFB in Utah, and Tinker AFB in Oklahoma, though other Air Force units and Defense depots will also be involved.

It is thus a huge project, with its ambitions matching its size. “This project is significant on a number of levels. It marks the first funded project under our new, five-year Cooperative Agreement with AFRL. It is also an important area of research not only for the Air Force, but for the entire military and manufacturing community as well,” said America Makes Director of Operations Rob Gorham. “Lastly, the impact of this project on the Northeast Ohio region with the strong showing from Ohio-based companies is tremendous, underscoring the manufacturing innovation coming out of the Youngstown and Mahoning Valley region. We are very excited to get this effort underway.”

So what is it focusing on? Specifically, this Direct Project Opportunity aims to enhance the Air Force’s ability to use 3D printing during the development, demonstration, transition, maintenance and repair of their technologies and aircraft. This should greatly improve the efficiency of the Air Force Logistics Complexes when providing part replacement services for a wide range of aircraft. This should, said Scott Deutsch of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining, reduce the complexes’ dependency on suppliers.

In fact, sustainment forms one of the biggest challenges in the aerospace industry, and the Air Force believes that much can be achieved by introducing reverse engineering tools, 3D scanners, CAD systems, non-destructive evaluation (NDE) systems, and 3D printing. America Makes went as far as arguing that this project can form a baseline for sustainable 3D printing innovations, especially when it comes to tooling applications, best practice assessment and transition procedures. It will also demonstrate the benefits of large scale 3D printing.

But considering the size of the US Air Force’s operations, this will require a lot of work, said America Makes Deputy Director of Technology Development John Wilczynski. “This Directed Project Opportunity represents the largest additive manufacturing focused effort on sustainment, maintenance, and repair technologies ever organized to date,” Wilczynski said. “Maintaining its fleet in a cost-efficient manner using advanced manufacturing technologies, including additive manufacturing, is critical to the strategic readiness of the Air Force today and into the future. Through its outlined approach combined with the diverse project team assembled and led by UDRI, a research leader in its own right, the Institute is highly optimistic that the resulting outcome will successfully address the Air Force’s sustainment needs and possibly extend beyond the Air Force to other military branches.”

Democratic representative of Ohio’s 13th district Tim Ryan put it in much simpler terms. “We are trying to help the military fight more effectively, be safer and also grow our economy,” he said during the YSU press conference. At this pace, 3D printing is heading towards a golden military future.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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