3-D Printed Parts for AWACS

The 552nd Maintenance Squadron fabrication flight at Tinker AFB, Okla., recently received engineering approval to make and install the first 3-D printed part—a plastic endcap for seat armrests—on an E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft. Engineers at the Oklahoma Air Logistics Complex approved the part on Dec. 18 after determining that the specialized plastic used by the printer met fire and smoke safety requirements, according to a base release. “The metals tech shop here is really leading the way in Air Force innovation and developing a new way of doing things—making it leaner, faster, on demand,” said SMSgt. Bradley Green, fabrication flight superintendent. The flight received its advanced Fortus 400mc 3-D printer last July. Since then, it also has created two “high-strength plastic form molds” used to make replacement air duct brackets in the E-3’s wings—a part no longer made by the manufacturer. The new process takes what was once an eight-hour job and reduces it to one hour and 30 minutes, said McBride. “We’re actually making a part that had zero in stock, and we’re refilling the supply system worldwide because of the stuff that we’ve just created with a 3-D printer and a water jet,” he added. (See also: 3-D Printing Holds Huge Promise for AFMC.