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3D printing brings maintenance efficiency and improved healthcare to Travis Air Force Base

Travis Air Force Base (AFB) in Fairfield, California has recruited the help of 3D printing technologies. The Air Base has employed 3D scanners to reduce maintenance time. Moreover, 3D printers are in use at Travis AFB’s David Grant USAF Medical Center (DGMC), to make dental models and surgical guides.

Col. Matthew Leard, vice commander, 60th Air Mobility Wing, said, “At Travis (AFB), Airmen are empowered to identify and solve problems at their level, rapidly.”

The Travis Air Force Base, Fairfield, California. Photo via the U.S. Air Force/Heide Couch
The Travis Air Force Base, Fairfield, California. Photo via the U.S. Air Force/Heide Couch

Advancing additive manufacturing

The U.S Air Force has successfully utilized 3D printing in many cases. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is especially active furthering research into advanced manufacturing methods. MAMLS, one of AFRL’s largest project for sustainable rapid part replacement employs 3D printing technology. Most recently, the AFRL awarded $5 million in grants to accelerate the development of additive manufacturing.

Furthermore, as previously reported, Travis AFB has utilized 3D printers to replace handles of military-grade thermoses. And since receiving part of the $64 million Squadron Innovation Funds, a grant to kickstart Air Force tech projects, the Travis AFB has expanded its wings.

3D scanning aircrafts

The Travis AFB procured a CreaForm HandyScan 700, a handheld 3D scanner. The 3D scanner is now part of Travis AFB’s maintenance operation, successfully used to inspect aircraft damage.

Master Sgt. Christopher Smithling, assistant section chief for aircraft structural maintenance, 60th Maintenance Squadron, said, “The scanner displays the deepest part of a dent to the nearest thousandth of an inch […] The scanner can identify the shape of a dent, as well as if it’s sharp, smooth or round, which allows us to give our engineers a better damage analysis than we could before.”

Sgt. Smithling, further explained, “One of our C-5 aircraft went through a hail storm in 2013 and we found many dents on all the panels […] We’ve performed an inspection of this aircraft every 180 days and we’ve had to measure every dent that’s still on the wing’s surface. The first few times we did that, it took us 48 hours. We had that C-5 in our hangar last week and we were able to inspect the four primary structural panels in 30 minutes.”

Joshua Orr, 60th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, uses a 3D scanner to scan an aircraft part. Photo via U.S. Air Force/Heide Couch
Joshua Orr, 60th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, uses a 3D scanner to scan an aircraft part. Photo via U.S. Air Force/Heide Couch

Bringing 3D printers on board

Furthermore, efforts are also underway to incorporate metal and polymer 3D printers into the maintenance operation.

Smithling said, “With the two additive manufacturing units, we will be able to grab any aircraft part, scan it, and within four to eight hours, we will have a true 3D drawing of it that we can send to the additive manufacturing unit to print it.”

Having 3D printers on the base will ensure rapid replacement of aircraft parts. “Once we have this additive manufacturing capability in place, we will likely be able to print and replace parts in a few hours and return our aircraft to flying status much quicker,” added Smithling.

Improved dental care with Form 2 

Furthermore, a Form 2 SLA printer, is tasked with helping dentists at the Dental Clinic of DGMC, the largest medical center of the U.S Airforce.

Capt. Geoffrey Johnston, 60th Dental Squadron prosthodontist, said, “We currently fabricate surgical guides, hard night guards and dental models or casts with different variations […] We are also investigating printing temporary crown and bridge restorations, complete and partial dentures and orthodontic clear aligners.”

The Form 2 has reduced labor hours by 85% and cut production time from three hours to thirty minutes. Furthermore, 3D printing technology has improved the standards of health care in general at the Dental Clinic.

Johnston continued, “By merging 3D radiographs of jaws with 3D models of actual teeth, we are able to plan exact placement of implants and with 3D printing technology added to that, we are able to carry out those plans with extreme precision.”

A Form 2 printer at the Travis Air Force Base. Photo via U.S. Air Force/Louis Briscese
A Form 2 printer at the Travis Air Force Base. Photo via U.S. Air Force/Louis Briscese

Nominations are open for 3D Printing Awards 2019. Please name your choices.

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Featured image shows the Travis Air Force Base, Fairfield, California. Photo via the U.S. Air Force/Heide Couch



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