AM for Defense Industry

Why the US Air Force needs Additive Manufacturing in MRO

In stead of aircrafts of the US Air Force sittings days on tarmac awaiting simple replacement parts, that are hard to get for many aging aircrafts, 3D printing these parts can get the aircrafts fly again much faster. That’s the goal a project team of Essentium, Inc and the US Air Force start working on. In less time and with less cost they want to certify 4 times more materials compared with the situation currently available.


Essentium, Inc., has been awarded a contract by the U.S. Air Force to drive the development and deployment of advanced additive manufacturing (AM) solutions for applications in tooling, ground support, maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO), and flight-certified parts for military aircraft and ground vehicles through both the U.S. Air Force and the National Guard Bureau (NGB).

Essentium and US Air Force start to accelerate AM deployment

3D printen with PEEK (Photo’s: Essentium, Inc)

Challenging finding replacement parts

The U.S. Air Force is under constant pressure to accelerate aircraft repairs, reduce costs, and quickly get aircraft back in the air. For many aging aircraft, replacement parts are scarce, and it is challenging to find manufacturers willing to resume the production of parts that may not be reordered for many years. Parts ordered one or two at a time are extremely expensive and entail exceptionally long waits, often forcing the U.S. Air Force to cannibalize parts from the ‘aircraft boneyard’ at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

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Cutting edge technology

Nathan Parker, Deputy PEO, Rapid Sustainment Office, U.S. Air Force says: “Developing safety-critical airplane parts is closer than ever before due to cutting edge technology like Essentium’s additive manufacturing solution.” The project team of US Air Force and Essentium will test and develop new materials and processes using the Essentium High Speed Extrusion (HSETM) 3D Printing Platform. This platform offers print speeds useful for both rapid part production at the point of use and decreasing the time required to certify new materials for use in flight. The aim is to offer replacements for MIL-spec materials such as phenolics. The goal of the project is to certify 4 times the quantity of materials in dramatically less time and cost compared with the approach used nowadays.

The second session of the Virtual AM for Defense Conference will take place on Tuesday 3 November. Speakers will be Stephan Ritt, who will discuss the results of tests Spee3D is doing with the Australian Army; Onno Ponfoort van Berenschot who will discuss certification and Luis Ignacio Suárez-Ríos, Manufacturing Engineer at the Spanish Idonial. He deals with large format 3D printing and bioprinting. Here you can find more information and sign up for the second session.

The sky is the limit

When the right materials and procestechnology are available, additive manufacturing has the potential to address the challenges in the MRO business of the US Airforce. Elisa Teipel, Ph.D., Chief Development Officer and Co-founder, Essentium, Inc.: “The sky is the limit for the potential benefits of additive manufacturing for the U.S. Air Force. As well as reducing operating costs by tens of millions, the strategic capability we will work with our STRATFi partners to deliver through this program will help bring about an end to the scenario of days of aircraft sitting on tarmac awaiting simple replacement parts which may be 3D printed and can get them flying again.”

This contract is part of more than $550 million recently deployed through the inaugural Strategic Financing (STRATFi) initiative to identify and advance ‘big bet’ technologies that have the potential to protect and advance the future dominance of the U.S. Air Force and its airmen.

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