Air Force uses new technology to improve mission readiness
Airmen at Travis Air Force Base are implementing innovative strategies to reduce man hours and increase mission effectiveness.
Over the past several months, the base has implemented a variety of innovations including 3D printing and 3D scanning.
Cultivating a culture of innovation is essential to mission success, said Col. Matthew Leard, 60th Air Mobility Wing vice commander.
"At Travis (AFB), airmen are empowered to identify and solve problems at their level, rapidly," he said. "We want airmen to think big and try the ideas others say will never work. It does not always have to be proven technology or have a business case. Let's just try it, who knows it may just work."
The innovations under way at Travis AFB were made possible when the Air Force distributed million in Squadron Innovation Funds in an effort to increase readiness, reduce cost, save time and enhance lethality of the force.
In October 2018, Travis AFB procured a 3D hand scanner capable of producing three-dimensional representations of aircraft parts. The device has also been used to inspect aircraft damage.
"The scanner displays the deepest part of a dent to the nearest thousandth of an inch," said Master Sgt. Christopher Smithling, 60th Maintenance Squadron assistant section chief for aircraft structural maintenance. "The scanner can identify the shape of a dent, as well as if it's sharp, smooth or round, which allows us to give our engineers a better damage analysis than we could before."
Joshua Orr, 60th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, uses a CreaForm HandyScan 700 to capture digital information to render a three-dimensional image of an aircraft part into specialized computer software, Nov. 16, 2018, at Travis Air Force Base.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Heide Couch)
Smithling said the scanner was first used in November 2018 to inspect the landing gear of a C-17 Globemaster III after a bird strike, and over the past month, has greatly reduced the time required to complete damage inspections.
"One of our C-5 aircraft went through a hail storm in 2013 and we found many dents on all the panels," he said. "We've performed an inspection of this aircraft every 180 days and we've had to measure every dent that's still on the wing's surface. The first few times we did that, it took us 48 hours. We had that C-5 in our hangar last week and we were able to inspect the four primary structural panels in 30 minutes."
The 60th MXS is also in the process of procuring two 3D printers, one polymer printer and one metal printer, so they can reproduce aircraft parts.
"With the two additive manufacturing units, we will be able to grab any aircraft part, scan it, and within four to eight hours, we will have a true 3D drawing of it that we can send to the additive manufacturing unit to print it," Smithling said.
That capability, he said, will decrease the time Travis AFB aircraft are out of service.
"Right now, we could have one of our aircraft down for about 48 hours while we try to get the part it needs," he said. "Once we have this additive manufacturing capability in place, we will likely be able to print and replace parts in a few hours and return our aircraft to flying status much quicker."
Innovation is also leading to improved patient care at David Grant USAF Medical Center, the largest medical center in the Air Force. The Dental Clinic at DGMC received a Form2 printer in August 2018, which has enabled the clinic to produce a variety of items used for dental surgery.
A Formlabs Form2 printer, operated by 60th Dental Squadron airmen, prints a dental guard at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Dec. 17, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Louis Briscese)
"We currently fabricate surgical guides, hard night guards and dental models or casts with different variations," said Capt. Geoffrey Johnston, 60th Dental Squadron prosthodontist. "We are also investigating printing temporary crown and bridge restorations, complete and partial dentures and orthodontic clear aligners."
"Prior to additive manufacturing techniques, there were shapes and designs for instruments and restorations in dentistry that were either impossible or so expensive and cumbersome to fabricate, they were not feasible to create," Johnston added. "The Form2 overcomes those pitfalls and does so with resins that have been determined biocompatible for intraoral use."
This technology leads to improved patient care, said Johnston.
"By merging 3D radiographs of jaws with 3D models of actual teeth, we are able to plan exact placement of implants and with 3D printing technology added to that, we are able to carry out those plans with extreme precision," he said. "This precision of placement gives us the ability to more predictably avoid nerves, vessels and adjacent teeth with our implant placement. Also, this technology enables us to have temporary crowns made before dental implant surgery to attach to the implants at the time of surgery."
Currently, Travis AFB airmen are working on a dozen 2018 SIF-funded projects and preparing to submit innovative ideas for the 2019 SIF campaign. Airmen can submit ideas through the U.S. Air Force Ideation Platform at https://usaf.ideascalegov.com/.
This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.