DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas —
The 7th Equipment Maintenance Squadron Manufacturing Flight manufactures aircraft parts and ground equipment that are no longer produced or supplied by manufacturers.
When flight manufactures an aircraft part, the process is long and tedious. There can be no room for error.
At the beginning of 2022, the Aircraft Metals Technology section received a scanner, a laptop and an application that scans a part with complete precision. Then, polymer 3D printing technology creates a prototype part mold to mount on the plane.
Why did the Air Force spend $100,000 on this new equipment? According to 2nd Lt. Scott Huda, commander of the 7th EMS Manufacturing Flight, the answer was simple.
“The B-1 has been around for a while and has accumulated many flight hours. Parts wear out or break and they take a long time to replace,” Huda said. dental putty to take an impression of the part, either on the plane or removed in our shop Our machine shop used the hardened putty to make the part.
Huda said the putty wasn’t always perfect, and if the part wasn’t precisely right, they had to repeat the process. Sometimes the team would measure the room or use the measurements given in the plans. If both measurement sources were incorrect, the process is repeated.
“With the scanner, which takes minutes to produce a working 3D model, and the 3D plastic mold, which is completed in 30 minutes to a few hours, the spare parts process saves 80% of our working hours. “, says Tech. sergeant. Jesse Gonzalez, 7th EMS Aircraft Metals Technology Section Chief.
The commercial sector has been using scanners and 3D printers for years. If a factory is making 10,000 parts a year, between labor costs and man-hour savings, the impact is monumental. At Dyess, the manufacturing flight manufactures approximately 2,000 parts per year. Huda believes the new technology will increase volume since the process is 80% faster. In addition, the scanner is 100% accurate.
Many people would think that a part of an airplane is the exact size of another airplane; therefore, it would be easy to duplicate a part in the scanner database.
“That’s not true,” Huda noted. “During the life of the B-1, parts were made locally to fly the jets. It is extremely important to ensure that these parts are manufactured to specification, as even a small error in measurement can adversely affect its performance. A good example of this are the bolts that help keep the wings attached to the B-1; although this may only be a small part of the aircraft, our $100,000 investment has helped ensure the $12 million wing is properly secured.”
As the Air Force’s total fleet ages, manufacturers find it uneconomical to produce and stock aircraft parts. The Air Force must remain ready to fly an aging fleet, even as new aircraft are introduced into inventory. For little cost, this new technology can reduce the maintenance time of a B-1 waiting for spare parts by two weeks.
A few members of the fabrication flight spent about a month learning to use the equipment on their own. Once they became proficient, they trained other team members. With this new technology, the Aircraft Metals Technology shop can increase production while being confident that everything they produce will be the exact size, eliminating rework. Huda said embracing new technology and increasing productivity was a team effort.