Travis Air Force Base’s 60th Maintenance Squadron is now armed with a Stratasys F900 3D printer — meaning some aircraft parts can be produced more efficiently.
In fact, the California-based unit used the machine to print the first approved project Aug. 12 — new latrine covers for a C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft.
Ordinarily, the parts would have taken a year to obtain. But with the new printer, it only took 73 hours to produce two covers.
“It brings us a capability that we’ve never had before,” said Master Sgt. John Higgs, the squadron’s metals technology section chief, according to an Air Force news release. “There’s so many possibilities available to us right now. We’re just scratching the surface.”
The printer can produce nonstructural aircraft parts and employs a material called Ultem 9085, which the Air Force claims is more flexible and durable than standard plastic.
The Air Force has some of the most expensive coffee cups in the world ― and they break, a lot.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Force Advanced Technology and Training Center certified the device, and technicians now can access blueprints for parts from an online database approved by the University of Dayton Research Institute.
The academic institution was also responsible for training and certifying the three airmen selected by the 60th Maintenance Squadron to undergo the training. Altogether, the process of meeting facility and certification requirements, and installing the printer took eight months, the Air Force said.
Since the unit is the first and only field unit in the Air Force certified to use the Stratasys F900, the service is handing off aircraft parts requests from other bases to Travis.
“We already have a list from the Air Force level to help them print and to backfill some supplies,” Higgs said. “This will ensure other bases can replace items sooner than expected with our help.”
In the future, Higgs said, the unit is aiming to branch out and produce a variety of parts— not just ones for aircraft.
“We have the capability to print parts on a production scale for a lot more customers,” Higgs said. “The overall goal is to generate products for every organization to support whatever needs they may have.”