DVIDS – News – 31st MXG innovates with 3D printing


AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – Innovation comes in many shapes and sizes, and the smallest changes can make the biggest differences.

Four sections of the 31st Maintenance Group came together to find a creative solution to an issue with a Display Management Switch (DMS) button on the side stick of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, July 2021.

The F-16’s side stick control handle is the pilot’s primary interface for the aircraft’s flight, avionics, and armament systems. Without a working DMS button, they would be unable to fine-tune their avionics display and more.

The team continued to waste time and money unnecessarily when the DMS button on the F-16’s handle broke. The DMS button is not a supply asset and the only way to get this item is to order a complete DMS switch replacement and swap the entire stick. The switch replacement process requires the removal of the entire flight stick from the aircraft, just to replace a small button.

“There was an adhesive that we had ordered about eight months ago, and getting any type of item like this to Italy is a long process,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Kyle Eilefson, chief of the avionics intermediate section of the 31st Maintenance Squadron. “We had fully serviceable switches on hand, but if we were to open it, we’d be down just as long until we got the adhesive itself.”

The team brainstormed and came up with an inventive idea to save the US Air Force time and money: 3D print the DMS button.

“The quickest process was trying to use a 3D printer,” Eilefson said. “Each DMS button costs 10 cents to print.”

Installing this part directly on the plane would reduce stick removal, supply handling, maintenance and back room reinstallation, ultimately turning a $131.90 job into a 10 cent job and saving 30 man-hours per button replacement.
Before they could start realizing their idea, the team first had to get their plans approved through an equipment specialist. Then came the task of building and testing the prototype to see if they could even use it.

“We had the conversation, to see if it was even possible,” Eilefson said. “You can’t order this single piece from supply, you have to order the whole switch, not just a button. Using 3D printing, we’ve eliminated the need to open the side stick and we didn’t need that adhesive which took us another five months to get.

All the coordination to get a usable prototype took days and eliminated nearly a year of downtime that could have been used on the DMS button, according to Eilefson.

“The engineering coordination timeline for a project like this is typically long,” said Tech. sergeant. Adam Rentsch, 31 MXG’s Air Force Repair Enhancement Program (AFREP) manager. “There are several steps that must be completed before a design is approved. It’s something that we eliminated in a few days because everyone was in sync and everyone was on board. The whole team dug deeper than they normally would to resolve the issue.

To fabricate the prototype they needed, the avionics section contacted the 31st MXG AFREP section to see if they had the capability to 3D print the part. According to Rentsch, this would be the first 3D printed part to equip an F-16 from Aviano Air Base.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. 31st MXG AFREP Technician Bryan Hernandez-Navarro found the specifications and measurements for the DMS button using schematic diagrams and quickly got to work creating the prototype.

“We got the technical drawing,” Hernandez-Navarro said. “The diagram had all the specs and dimensions for the button, then it showed what type of plastic we would need. Once the specifications were obtained, I started designing the prototype using computer-aided design software. After that, I started making the prototypes.

After the prototypes were printed, a member of the MXG Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory 31st Flight performed stress tests on the prototypes to test its durability.

“We took a dynamometer, something you push on it to tell you how much weight you’re applying, and we pushed it down on the knob in each direction and then we put a string around it and pulled it up,” said Senior Airman Jacob Zardiackas, 31 MXG PMEL technician. “We made sure it would actually hold up and not break.”

There’s a certain amount of force the button had to withstand, and Hernandez-Navarro said it wasn’t until the fifth prototype that they had one that passed the test and could be installed on the F-16.

Hernandez-Navarro hopes this innovative idea could open doors in the future for the 31st MXG to use more 3D printed parts on fighter generation aircraft. This idea would not have been executed if it were not for motivated airmen who wanted to make a difference.

“The front line of leadership right now is to accelerate and change,” Rentsch said. “You have four sections that were ready to put this into practice. We were able to use our resources, go outside, and fix the problem within days. We found this way to make this part, test it, and put it on planes with tech support, so it was a huge team win.

Date taken: 08.01.2022
Date posted: 08.01.2022 03:57
Story ID: 426211

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