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Hill's 3D printing office supports AF maintenance operations

  • Published
  • By Kendahl Johnson
  • 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

A small unit in the Ogden Air Logistics Complex is making big waves by helping the Air Force replace hard to find parts and tools. 

The unit is called RAPID, or Reverse Engineering, Advanced Manufacturing, Prototyping, Innovation, and Design, and its aim is to support maintenance operations through three-dimensional modeling and printing.

“We find out what the customers’ needs are then work to save them time and money,” said Taylor Gittins, RAPID supervisor.

Located within the 809th Maintenance Support Squadron, RAPID has large industrial 3D printers and laser scanners to assist with a gamut of projects, including modeling, additive manufacturing and designing tooling. Based on customer surveys, Gittins estimates his unit saved customers more than $1 million last fiscal year and about 12 to 15 manhours per project.

Some of the savings come from printing aircraft parts for fit checks. When aircraft maintainers need a part they don’t have the exact specifications for or is simply hard to get, RAPID engineers will use laser scanners to determine the exact details of the part. They can then print the part and fit check it to determine if the specifications were correct.

“We can print inexpensively with cheap plastic to validate specifications before the part is manufactured in expensive metals,” Gittins said. “This not only saves money but also helps improve the quality and lead time of the manufactured parts.”

Different technologies all have different advantages.  Gittins said they have more than 20 3D printers, with different technologies and different advantages. RAPID can print in a large variety of materials as well.  Capabilities include:

  • Fused Deposition Modeling – one of the most common methods of 3D printing. FDM printers extrude a thermoplastic filament in a series of layers over a build plate to create a 3D object.
  • Stereolithography – a technique or process for creating 3D objects, in which a computer-controlled moving laser beam is used to build up the required structure, layer by layer, from a liquid polymer that hardens on contact with laser light.
  • Selective Laser Sintering – an additive manufacturing technique that uses a laser as the power and heat source to sinter powdered material, binding the material together to create a solid structure.
  • Metal Laser Powder Bed Fusion – Similar to selective laser sintering, only with metal powder instead of plastic powder to create a metal part. 

Gittins said they have a quick turnaround time.  They often can get a project and create a part by the next day. He said he wants maintainers – not just at Hill Air Force Base, but all over the Department of Defense – to know about their laboratory and its capabilities.  They currently have multiple projects in the works from other bases.

To learn more about capabilities or to request RAPID assistance, email OO-ALC.RAPID.workflow@us.af.