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NEWS | Jan. 17, 2020

JB Charleston cuts costs, labor time with additive manufacturing

By Senior Airman Allison Payne Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Joint Base Charleston’s 628th Logistics Readiness Squadron Vehicle Maintenance Flight successfully installed the first metal additive manufacturing part for an R-11 Refueler truck. The installation process took approximately three months, with a completion date on Nov. 7, 2019.


Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is a transformative approach to industrial production which enables the creation of lighter, stronger parts and systems. Using computer aided designs or 3D object scanners, additive manufacturing allows for the creation of objects with precise geometric shapes.


The R-11 Refueler is the primary mobile refueling vehicle for the Air Force. The original part manufactured for the vehicle is the fuel truck cap valve, which costs approximately $2,254 to make and about 60 days to produce. The metal additive part, however, costs about $246 to make and can be printed in 14 hours.


“We use additive manufacturing to determine faster, less expensive ways to solve challenges the Air Force faces with aging equipment and weapons systems,” said Master Sgt. Joshua Bemis, Air Force Metals Technology Office superintendent. “It’s essentially placing better manufacturing technologies into our maintainer’s hands to face these challenges, while adopting innovative technologies in order to increase readiness and effectiveness.”


JB Charleston partnered with members of the Advanced Technology and Training Center at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, to obtain the software and resources needed for 3D printing. Capt. David Sage, 628th LRS Vehicle Management Flight commander, said he credits his team and leadership for making additive manufacturing a reality.


“My commander is very adamant about finding ways to do more,” said Sage. “Even though we had a working process in place, we decided to dig deeper and see how we could improve in our processes. This was all possible because we asked the right questions to the right people. After reaching out to our contacts at Robins, they met with us and took the time to show us how the process worked, bringing us to where we are today.”


The earliest 3D printing manufacturing equipment was developed by Hideo Kodama of the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute in 1981, where he invented two additive methods for fabricating 3D models.


“The flexibility of additive manufacturing has proven beneficial in many areas – material cost, part weight, improved design and performance,” said Bemis. “Additive manufacturing is changing the way the Air Force manufactures tooling and parts in support of equipment and weapons systems through augmenting legacy manufacturing methods. Legacy manufacturing methods involve additional planning, material, specialized tooling and equipment. Additive manufacturing machines will not replace legacy machinery; rather, ease the burden, providing an alternative method in order to reduce the need for multi-stage processes, specialized tooling or sourcing of material.”


According to Sage, the 3D printed fuel truck cap valve has had no malfunctions or causes for concerns. He also said due to its success, vehicle maintenance hopes to manufacture other parts in the future.


“It’s really exciting to be able to use and have these technologies at our disposal,” said Sage. “We’re always finding ways that we can improve both the quality of life and the overall effectiveness of our processes for the Air Force mission, especially in today’s constantly changing world. Having multiple ways to get what we need, such as through 3D printing, is absolutely vital for ensuring we are able to continue protecting the nation’s interests.”