TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Members of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, an Air Force Sustainment Center wing, have produced the first additively manufactured metal component successfully tested on a U.S. Air Force aircraft engine, a significant milestone for future sustainment of aircraft like the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System and the B-52 Stratofortress.
The OC-ALC used additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, to create a component for the TF33-P103 engine, an innovation meant to save time and improve efficiency. A collaboration between the 76th Propulsion Maintenance Group, the Reverse Engineering and Critical Tooling Lab and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Propulsion Sustainment Division produced a 3-D printed anti-ice gasket. The gasket is a critical part of safe and efficient operation of the TF33 engine, which powers the E-3, the B-52 and the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System.
“This accomplishment is truly a historical first,” said Johnny Tsiao, AFLCMC propulsion structural competency lead. “This is a digitally designed and digitally engineered component that represents a substantial milestone in Air Force sustainment. Although it is a basic component, the technology our OC-ALC team has developed will help resolve supply chain issues and help bring further capacities to support the warfighter.”
The project stemmed from a supply shortage of anti-ice gaskets. Historically, maintenance workers visually inspected and reused the gasket component. Recently, OC-ALC personnel noticed that the published guidance directed maintenance personnel to discard the gaskets, significantly increasing demand for the component and subsequently causing a supply shortage.
“One of the things we found in this collaboration is that we could potentially solve the supply shortage by reengineering and printing something and prove it was safe to fly,” said Richard Banks, 76th PMXG delegated engineering authority engineer. “This type of engineering makes it easier to source materials, greatly reduces lead time and ultimately helps to reduce logistical and supply issues.”
So far, the REACT lab has digitally engineered and printed 30 anti-ice gaskets. Members of the 76th PMXG performed a successful engine acceptance test run earlier this month. Compared to the original component sourcing method, the new anti-ice gasket manufacturing process reduces administrative lead time—the amount of time between an initial contract and actual component manufacture—from 120-136 days to 14-21 days.
OC-ALC engineers say they are optimistic about the future of 3D printing and its use in improving the Air Force sustainment process.
“We’ve implemented a crawl, walk and run approach when it comes to additive manufacturing,” said Tsiao. “We haven’t had a 3D printed metal component in Air Force engines before, but in the next 12-24 months, this technology will open the door to more complex and critical components that help to improve our sustainment efforts moving forward.”
Air Force Materiel Command continues to encourage Airmen to be innovative and find new ways to streamline processes and save resources.