Jan 30, 2019 | By Cameron

Marines stationed in Iwakuni, Japan have 3D printed two components that reduce repair times on F/A-18 Hornets, potentially saving the Department of Defense a lot of money. When jet engines are removed for shipping, service, or repair, they can leak oil and hydraulic fluids. To prevent those leaks, the standard procedure is to send maintenance technicians to the location of the jet and drain its engine fluids before it’s shipped, but that take Marines away from their core mission at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni. One of the new 3D printed parts is an engine ship kit that plugs the engine up to prevent leaks while they’re being moved and repaired.

1st Lt. Simon Miller and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Willems created the ship kit with the help of MCAS Iwakuni’s Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron (MALS) 12 and their new 3D printers. Squadron commander Lt. Col. Javier Garcia remarked on the simplicity of the solution, “I’m not really sure why no one thought to make this kind of kit before, but this design is going to have an impact across the Navy and Marine Corps.”

The other part designed by the same team is a tool for greasing the bearings in the F-18’s M61A Vulcan, a Gatling-style rotary cannon that can fire 6,000 rounds a minute. Every 30,000 rounds, the bearings must be repacked with grease, a task that typically takes two Marines half an hour to complete. With a set of 3D printed rings, the grease packing is reduced to only ten minutes. Their version 2.0 has better tolerances than the original, which improves its performance but also makes it more difficult to remove. Version 3.0 will include handles to deal with that problem.

That’s the beauty of 3D printing; it’s so easy to redesign and make multiple iterations of a prototype. The concept of distributed manufacturing includes the empowering nature of allowing those who most intimately interact with a thing to inform the design of that thing. In other words, the high-level engineers that work at aerospace and defense firms designing planes and guns don’t actually work with those machines on a daily basis, so they won’t be as familiar with the ins and outs of their maintenance as the Marines covered in grease and oil who have valuable first-hand experience handling these aircrafts and weapons. The Marines are in a better position to design solutions to problems that arise on the hangar floor. Give them a 3D printer and they’ll do just that.

The M61A Vulcan is used in Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18s as well as Air Force F-16s, F-15s, and F-22s, so the grease packer could get a lot of use. And the engine ship kit could easily be modified to work with different engines. These 3D printed parts could save the DoD countless dollars.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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