Additive manufacturing keeps B-2 in the fight

  • Published
  • By Brian Brackens
  • Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Public Affairs

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla.-- Supporting the B-2 Spirit and ensuring the aircraft stays relevant and in the fight for years to come is the mission of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s B-2 Program Office.  

In an effort to prevent the unintentional activation of the airframe mounted accessory drive (AMAD) decouple switch located in the cockpit of the aircraft, the program office recently developed a permanent protective cover.

The cover was created using additive manufacturing technology, more commonly known as 3-D printing, and it will be placed on top of the AMAD decouple switch, which is a four-switch panel that controls the connection of the engines to the hydraulic and generator power of the aircraft.

“This part [AMAD cover] is unique, and there was never a commercial equivalent to it, so we had to develop it in-house,” said Roger Tyler, an aerospace engineer with the B-2 Program Office. “Additive manufacturing allowed us to rapidly prototype designs, and through multiple iterations, the optimum design for the pilots and maintainers was created.  We have completed the airworthiness determination and are currently in the final stages to get the covers implemented on the B-2 fleet, which will be the first additively manufactured part to be approved and installed on the B-2.”

Tyler added that the cost for a total of 20 covers was approximately $4,000 and that the goal is to get them on B-2s by the end of the year or early 2021.

The development of the covers was aided by the Additive Manufacturing Design Rule Book, which was created by the AFLCMC Product Support Engineering Division.

“The rule book provides design guidelines and lessons learned in the additive manufacturing field, specifically the use of direct metal laser melting and fuse deposition modeling technologies.” said Jason McDuffie, Chief, Air Force Metals Technology Office within the Product Support Engineering Division. “It has been used to help create a variety of important parts for the Air Force.”

“Additive manufacturing is the way of the future,” Tyler added. “The B-2 is a low volume fleet. There’s only 20 of them, so anytime something needs to be done on the aircraft, cost can be an issue. But with additive manufacturing, we can design something and have it printed within a week and keep costs to a minimum.”