One of the challenges of maintaining aircraft in their sustainment phase is that replacement parts can be difficult to obtain for a variety of reasons, including original equipment manufacturers who no longer exist or the prohibitive cost and time to manufacture parts singly.
Aviation Machinist Mate 2nd Class Eric Riddle and Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Daniel Ostroff encountered this situation with taxi light brackets for a C-130 Hercules, operated by Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VR) 54, the Revelers, at Fleet Readiness Center Mid Atlantic New Orleans (FRCMA NOLA).
During a non-destructive inspection of a C-130, maintainers discovered a crack around one of the bolt holes on a taxi light bracket and tried to order a replacement. Each of the main landing gear doors on the four-engine turboprop aircraft has a taxi light attached to the inside forward edge of the door that is held in place by either a right-side or left-side bracket. The parts catalog listed the price for one of the brackets at slightly more than $600, while the one for the other side was listed as “not procurable,” meaning the squadron would need to find a way to have it manufactured.
Thinking that additive manufacturing (AM) could be the answer, the squadron submitted the bracket for AM “green box” approval – meaning that the part has no airworthiness impact; the use of additive manufacturing is allowed; and materials and printers are at the customer’s discretion – and received the approval. They then posted a request for AM to the Joint Technical Data Integration (JTDI) web-based, data system where warfighters can access current, real-time technical data and network to receive help from a variety of sources.
Riddle and Ostroff saw the request on JTDI and started working with VR-54 to create a computer-aided design (CAD) file for the bracket.
Both Riddle, a continuous process improvement (CPI)-AIRSpeed core team member and Junior Innovation Think Tank team leader at FRCMA NOLA, and Ostroff, who serves as the detachment’s Hazardous Material Control and Management supervisor, had some experience with 3D printing and thought that might be a solution. But, the brackets are metal and the 3D printers in their detachment’s fabrication laboratory (FabLab) used a plastic material. So the two began their search for alternatives.
“AT1 Ostroff brought me the dimensions and technical drawing, and I drafted it up,” Riddle said. “The printers here have limited capabilities. If we wanted the bracket to be strong enough it would need to be printed elsewhere.”
“A few of our sailors completed the introductory 3D printing course at Pax and suggested we contact the iHub for assistance,” said Ostroff, whose collateral duty title for the Fablab and for this project is FRCMA NOLA Additive Manufacturing lead engineer.
Riddle and Ostroff were given the “go ahead” by their leadership to pursue the project with the iHub.
The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) iHub – short for innovation hub – at Patuxent River is comprised of a FabLab, Makerspace, resource center, software sandbox, and collaborative, brainstorming spaces. The iHub’s 3D printers could print with several types of plastic.
“The knowledge the iHub team has is amazing,” Ostroff said. “The variety of materials, the knowledge and experience in computer-aided design and different software is priceless. I learned a lot in the short week that I was up there working this project.”
“The best part,” Riddle said, “is learning to create something from nothing and bringing my creations to life. That and creating a part that the fleet will use over and over into the future feels good.”
Riddle and Ostroff have printed prototype brackets in several different plastic materials to see if one may work best. The 3D manufactured parts are now undergoing engineering review and awaiting a test fit on the aircraft to see if they are viable replacements. The CAD file is also awaiting approval to be a downloadable data package on JTDI. If a 3D printed part can be used, it will likely cost slightly more than $6 per unit.
The iHub opened for business in August 2018 in Building 407. The iHub is the product of workforce feedback and seeks to give employees agile work environments to innovate new processes and quickly solve problems from the fleet. For more information or to reserve a space, visit the NAWCmADe SharePoint site at https://myteam.navair.navy.mil/ad/nawcmade/Pages/homepage.aspx.