Jul 18, 2018 | By Thomas

The U.S. Air Force has started 3D printing replacement handles for broken coffee cups because otherwise it would cost $1,210 to replace a single one.

These cups are not ordinary cups that you're using at home or at work. They are designed for use on larger Air Force aircraft like cargo planes and refueling craft where Force crews are in pressurized areas. These crew members fly routinely in bad weather and turbulence, and also have to stay at their locations for several hours. They cannot use any other cup. So the Air Force developed steel coffee cups with hinged lid, a plastic handle and a heating element built in.

The problem is that, when these mugs are dropped, they can easily break the handles. Since the cups are specially made, the Air Force can't just order spare handles, so it has to buy new cups - at the cost of $1,210 each. This year, the Air Force has spent $32,000 on 25 new coffee cups.

Now, airmen at Travis Air Force base in Travis, California have started 3D printing new replacement handles as part of the Phoenix Spark program to bring tomorrow’s tools to the warfighter today.

"The handle currently on the hot cup has a square bottom, which creates a weak point on the handle so any time it is dropped, the handle splits shortly after impact," said Nicholas Wright, a volunteer 3D designer and printer with the Phoenix Spark office.

Phoenix Spark redesigned the cup’s handle, replacing the square bottom with a cored design supported by thinner layers on the outside for increased strength.

"Our new rounded handle reduces that weak point. The handle we designed is stronger and capable of being printed at most Air Force bases," he said in the release.

Wright compared the 3D printed handle to a tree. “Think of a tree that has multiple layers so it’s extremely strong in multiple directions,” he said. “The new handle has stacked layers with a solid piece around it so it’s similar to the layers of a tree.”

With the new design, the handle is also much cheaper to replace. Each 3D printed handle will cost only about 50 cents.

The Air Force is awaiting approval from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to start printing cup handle parts. "They are working through all the processes, quality standards and materials to try and put out a playbook on how we can 3D print the handle so it's approved to be on an Air Force aircraft," McGuire said. "Once we get that guidance, we can print the handles at Travis."

If it passes that, Phoenix Spark can mass produce the handles with 3D printing, thereby saving the Air Force thousands of Dollars.

However, Spokesman for the Project On Government Oversight, Dan Grazier said the Air Force’s exorbitant spending on coffee cups is just the latest example of a DoD-wide contracting problem.

“There’s just this accumulation that happens,” he explained to the Air Force Times. “Right now we’re talking about $1,200 on a coffee mug and two weeks ago we were talking about $10,000 toilet seat covers, and it just adds up.”

According to Grazier, the root of the problem is intellectual property rights. When the Pentagon makes deals with defense contractors, it rarely demands data rights, allowing contractors to charge heavily for repair and replacement on the systems down the road.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Ron Kerber wrote at 10/23/2018 4:48:09 PM:

Who is the manufacturer of the original cups? It seems to be curiously unavailable.

matt wrote at 7/26/2018 10:55:39 AM:

can we see the handle please?

Devon wrote at 7/24/2018 10:13:18 AM:

This is false even threw contacting the base mentioned that's the cost of the printer the most expensive mugs the govt buys are the ones for air force one which are around 500 ea

avi reichental wrote at 7/19/2018 8:20:08 PM:


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