3D Printing

3D printing technology increases aircraft readiness

16th December 2022
Sheryl Miles

Essentium, a global specialist in industrial additive manufacturing (AM), has announced that the 101st Air Refuelling Wing (ARW), Maine Air National Guard are using the Essentium High-Speed Extrusion (HSE) 3D Printing Platform and Essentium PCTG for printed flight control repair training aids to help maintain proficiency for traditional guardsmen.

To create training aids resembling genuine parts, the 101st ARW chose Essentium's 3D Printing Platform for its speed, accuracy, and low-cost materials. The fully trained guardsmen help increase the lifespan of aircraft parts, reduce instances of downed aircraft, and eliminate safety of flight issues.

Using the Essentium HSE 180 ST 3D Printer, engineers at the 101st ARW created a training aid for the outboard aileron balance tab in one weekend. This part is a critical flight control component with aircraft attachment points that frequently wear out. To repair them, guardsmen machine new holes, install bushings, inspect for accuracies, and install them to return the outboard aileron balance tab to original factory specs. However, access to spare aileron balance tabs is limited and typically reserved for real-world repair needs. Combined with the challenges of retaining experienced professionals in aileron balance tabs, these parts are difficult to maintain.

An incorrect repair can permanently destroy an aircraft part, requiring a replacement. It can result in a downed aircraft if the part is not immediately available. In the worst-case scenario, if the part is not repaired correctly and becomes a safety-of-flight issue, it could lead to the loss of aircraft.

For an effective training aid, the part must maintain its dimension when aluminium components are pressed into it. The engineers at 101st ARW chose Essentium PCTG due to its low cost, excellent surface finish, and impact strength. By using the Essentium HSE 180 ST 3D Printer and Essentium PCTG, the 101st ARW now have rapid and repeatable access to these rare parts.

"For this application, we chose Essentium over other printers because it can print faster and more accurately with external dimensions. The material cost is also relatively less," said Master Sgt. Jason Howes. "You can't put a value on having proficiently trained guardsmen. The confidence they get from putting their hands on the product, understanding what the result will look like, and gaining muscle memory is simply invaluable."

Using the scale model of the part created by the Essentium HSE, guardsmen can use technical data that applies to the component to repair it, the same way they would with the actual part.

Said Blake Teipel, Ph.D., CEO, Essentium, "This valuable tool has also caught the attention of other local military components, such as the Maine Army National Guard, who began requesting similar training aids for their rotary aircraft. We're excited that the Essentium HSE is currently being used as a cross-functional force multiplier that can shape the future of readiness across the joint force."

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