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Image of T-Step Pipe cast in aluminum using 3D sand-printed mold and core
The U.S. Air Force (USAF) is tasked with sustaining legacy aircraft with an average age of 27 years to continue to operate on their designed missions where many of the suppliers are not in business, out of production, or cannot produce low quantities at an affordable cost and lead time.
This additional Phase 1 work was to continue, transition, and close out effort on the America Makes project “Maturation of Advanced Manufacturing for Low-Cost Sustainment” (MAMLS), Phase 1. The objective of this program was to enhance and improve USAF sustainment operations through the development, demonstration, and transition
of additive manufacturing and related advanced manufacturing technologies. The program was aimed at improving the efficiency of the factory and Air Logistics Complex (ALC) for rapid part replacement for legacy and other aircraft, focusing on metal castings and non-critical interior aircraft parts.
Youngstown State University (YSU) was focused on two main tasks based on the Phase 1 program to continue
to transition sustainment solutions to Air Force ALCs and operational unit levels:
The castings project investigated further improvements in 3D printing sand casting molds and cores to strengthen the tools, reduce the surface roughness in the poured part, and increase the efficiency of this process. The non-structural interior parts project investigated using AM for pattern fabrication in various materials, developed improved shell fabrication options, and compared the parts created using investment casting and sand casting processes. YSU created workshops and training to transition these techniques to the Air Force ALC and
This program successfully developed additively manufactured solutions for sustainment needs focused on metal cast and non-critical interior parts for USAF and DoD customers, identified and worked with supply chain partners, and transitioned solutions so that the Reserve Units and ALCs use these on legacy aircraft.
As a result of YSU’s efforts to develop and demonstrate best practices for additively manufactured metal cast tooling, cost savings and reduced lead times were realized.
Through additively manufacturing sand molds on an S Max sand printer a C–130 step pipe was reduced from seven pieces that needed to be welded together down to a one-piece casting. This resulted in a 7-week lead time reduction and substantial cost savings through eliminating labor costs that resulted from welding. Another focus of this project was to enable additive manufacturing for non-structural interior parts and operational-level maintenance. YSU developed unit-level training and 3D printing capabilities for the USAF which allowed for the ability to print training aids and tools, as well as to increase mission readiness and enhance maintenance sustainment infrastructure. Due to improved access to training, annual cost savings between $3M-$5M was also attained.