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Kadena maintainers manufacture the future

Airman analyzes microscopic measurements of a 3-D printed object

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Dominick Ferneding, 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron metals technology journeyman, closely inspects a 3-D printed object at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Aug. 25, 2021. The Metals Technology shop supports a variety of installations and units on base to help reduce costs for repairs or projects. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Demond Mcghee)

Airmen monitor 3-D printer beginning to power on.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Montogomery, (right), 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron NCO in charge of aircraft metals technology, and Senior Airman Dominick Ferneding, (left), 18th EMS metals technology journeyman, warm up a 3-D printer at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Aug. 25, 2021. The 3-D printer is an additive manufacturing machine which creates low quantity, high complexity components that are otherwise expensive or difficult to manufacture by traditional means. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Demond Mcghee)

Airmen remove aircraft parts from a C-130

Airmen from the 353rd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron work to remove parts from a MC-130J Commando II at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Aug. 25, 2021. The 353rd SOAMXS mission supports infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces and aerial refueling. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Demond Mcghee)

Airman removes aircraft part from C-130

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dalen Paine, 353rd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron MC-130J communication and navigation craftsman, removes GPS parts from a Joint Precision Air Drop System at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Aug. 25, 2021. The JPADS mission support equipment and mission planning system gathers data from the aircraft’s GPS and broadcasts it through the entire cargo compartment to update onboard guided payload systems. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Demond Mcghee)

KADENA AIR BASE, Jpn --

The process began with maintainers from the 353rd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron requiring an HF Antenna Clamp Block Assembly.

However, the part materials are costly, and it could cost the Air Force upwards of thousands of dollars and several years to obtain the part through conventional methods.

Faced with potentially costly obstacles to their mission, Airmen from the Communication and Navigation Unit within the 353rd SOAMXS went above and beyond with one thought:

Why not make the part themselves?

“We first made the determination we wouldn’t be able to order this part through normal supply chains, nor could we fabricate the part without our own unit,” said 1st. Lt. Jesse Montgomery, 353rd SOAMXS operations support engineer. “We reached out to Metals Tech and found they possessed a printer and the material needed for the part. After receiving approval from the C-130 program office, we designed a 3-D model and provided a work request for the part to be printed.”

Air Force Material Command began the push to implement 3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, in engineering and maintenance organizations, providing the basis of this joint project between the two units.

With additive manufacturing, material is only added where it is needed, unlike traditional means where material is either removed or reformed. This enables the production of more complex and organic shapes.

While additive manufacturing is not a substitute for traditional means, it is suited to produce low quantity, high complexity components that may normally be difficult to manufacture or require expensive tools.

“It is amazing to see this technology,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Montgomery, 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron NCO in charge of aircraft metals technology. “I’ve seen it grow for the past 10 years in the civilian sector, and getting hands-on with it in my career field is increasingly exciting. Not only am I helping meet a demand, but I feel like it’s getting our section out there for more organizations to work with us, and will help us support a wider spectrum of needs in the long run.”

The innovation and teamwork of these two units works to save the U.S. Air Force money and man hours, while further strengthening mission readiness. Following the successful installation of this groundbreaking effort, a Technical Data Package will be produced to incorporate this 3-D printed part into different unit’s typical maintenance process. All of this to allow for a leaner, faster, smarter Air Force.

“This small part serves to demonstrate the capabilities and potential of this new technology,” Lt. Montgomery said. “It's great to see Air Force Special Operations Command maintainers coming up with creative solutions like this and working together with our host unit partners to maintain readiness.”