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Maintenance fab flight awarded Squadron Innovation Funds for 3D printer

  • Published
  • By Eric M. White
  • 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Northeast Ohio is well-respected internationally as an additive manufacturing research and technology hub. Youngstown Air Reserve Station, the region’s sole Air Force installation, got involved in discussions and research on potential military uses of the technology, commonly called 3D printing, such as maintenance tools and aircraft replacement parts that could be manufactured in deployed locations where supply chain logistics make it near impossible to secure parts needed for mission success.

The 910th Maintenance Group was recently awarded $72 thousand to advance its additive manufacturing capabilities through the purchase of an AON3D printer. The money was awarded through the AFWERX Squadron Innovation Fund.

Members of the 910th MXG fabrication flight have been working with the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s engineering product sustainment office, Youngstown State University, America Makes, the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining and the U.S. Marine Corps on developing and testing advanced manufacturing capabilities. The flight sees the printer acquisition as an opportunity to expand those partnerships and the research they’re producing while developing potential Air Force capability enhancements.

Chief Master Sgt. Darin Wesoloski, fabrication flight chief for the 910th Maintenance Squadron, has been a champion of additive manufacturing technology at YARS since the beginning.

“This printer has the capability to print the world’s strongest polymers, such as PEEK (Polyether Ether Ketone), which is widely regarded as the world’s strongest thermoplastic, along with Ultem, which is what the Air Force has certified to be approved for the production of non-structural aircraft components,” said Wesoloski.

So far, Wesoloski and his team have used desktop 3D printers to produce tools used in maintaining the 910th Airlift Wing’s fleet of eight C-130H Hercules aircraft. They print prop sticks which are used to raise or lower the props of parked aircraft, replacing more expensive and wasteful water-jet cut phenolic prop sticks. They also use the technique to fabricate a nose landing gear door support tool. The tool prevents damage to the door during nose landing gear maintenance by preventing the aircraft door from resting on the ground.

Wesoloski says the new printer offers cutting edge capabilities that will allow his flight to fabricate repair parts that are unavailable or have extended lead times for organizations at YARS using the latest technology and ultra-strong, high-performance polymers.

The particular printer they’re acquiring has not yet been certified by the Air Force, but YARS hopes to play a critical role in the process of AF certification.

“When the machine arrives at Youngstown, we will begin work with EZP Metals Technology program office to print test bars and begin the exciting process of certifying a new asset for the Air Force,” said Wesoloski. “We’ll work to ensure it has the capability and repeatability to produce components meeting strict tolerances and specifications in hopes to offer the Air force a more cost-effective alternative to the more expensive 3D printers currently being used by the Air Force.”

The 910th Airlift Wing’s mission statement is: Combat ready NOW...for tomorrow’s fight!

The ability to repair critical assets quickly and on-location with existing tools and materials will bolster the 910th’s ability to win the fights of tomorrow.