Have an idea for a special tool, polymer shape, or way to replace a vital part that could help you do your job better? Don’t forget to submit it to the Pilot 3D Printing Shop before September 30th.
The Surface Forces Logistics Center Industrial Operations Division (SFLC-IOD) launched the 3D Print Shop Challenge in March to assess how this technology could help units complete supply chains and reduce repair and maintenance costs. The Coast Guard is exploring 3D printers capable of creating a variety of polymer objects, including keys, handles and valves, which are built or “printed” layer by layer from a software design.
Lt Cmdr. Andrew Armstrong helped set up the pilot after seeing how the Aviation Logistics Center (ALC) used its 3D printer to create everything from hoist hanger handles to form blocks to specialty tools. “We wanted to raise awareness that using this technology might be an option and assess the needs of the surface fleet,” he said. “One of our most untapped resources is the junior enlisted members who play with hobby printers in their spare time. We say, ‘The Coast Guard is interested in your ideas and wants to engage with you.’
Members have already submitted more than a dozen ideas, including on-board electrical covers, custom training aids, two different parts for MH-60 helicopters, and a replacement for a plastic handle that is part of the fire equipment of all cutters.
Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Yamada and Junior Lt. Audrey Bartz, who serve aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Venturous, came up with their idea after having trouble replacing a handle on the standard fire cutter, the P-100. This rubberized lever opens and closes an essential ball valve on this fire equipment, which you will find on literally every knife. But due to constant use and exposure to the elements, the handle often cracks or breaks. The problem, as Yamada discovered, is that currently you can’t just replace the handle; you have to replace the entire Y-door on the P-100, which costs $476.91.
Yamada and Bartz felt that having a 3D printed option for the handle would provide greater flexibility and ease the financial burden on the unit. They reached out to sign Megan Wadleigh, who was able to borrow a 3D printer from another cutter to create their own plastic handle. In May, they submitted their idea, along with photos of the new handle they created, to [email protected]
“We were able to show how you could save almost $500 for the $4 cost of plastic,” Yamada said. “I think that’s good enough for an idea.”
Armstrong is also delighted with a bid to create a specialist tool known as a chockfest barrage, which will make replacing engines on 87ft patrol boats safer and more efficient. Guy Tharpe, a retired chief petty officer working with the SFLC-IOD had the original idea, and he and Armstrong designed a polymer form that can be used to quickly pour and set the specialized epoxy that supports the engine after alignment. . The SFLC Engineering Services Division created the computer model and the ALC printed it. The new tool shortened the engine alignment/installation process by a day, avoided costs of at least $1,300 per engine, and improved process reliability by 40-50%.
While many cutters have a hobby-style printer, producing mission-grade parts typically requires an industrial model, which can cost up to $500,000. But after recent successes, Armstrong believes this type of printer will generate savings far beyond its initial cost. SFLC-IOD has currently ordered its first 3D printer in conjunction with the Research and Development Center and will also be getting one of the retired systems from ALC.
In the meantime, he encourages members to continue sending in submissions.
“We hope to reward people who come up with ideas,” Armstrong said. “If you have an impact on the whole fleet, that’s something you can be proud of and recognized for.”