NAVAIR Eyes Additive Manufacturing to Fill Spare Parts Demand
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Special Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is driving a lengthy and complex program to perfect additive manufacturing processes that can produce vitally needed parts on demand, as a means to attack one of the Navy’s critical challenges — improving the readiness of its aviation forces.
The top Navy and Marine Corps aviation leaders testified recently that a lack of spare parts is one of the major reasons half of their strike fighters cannot fly.
Using the additive manufacturing process, commonly called 3-D Printing, NAVAIR was able to produce a complex “critical component” made of titanium and hardened stainless steel that was successfully tested in a flight of a tiltrotor MV-22 Osprey, after an extensive flight safety certification, two NAVAIR officials said April 3 at the 2017 Sea-Air-Space Exposition.
Producing the final component, which holds the engine nacelle to the Osprey’s wing, took a total of 21months, but the idea behind the effort is to enable Navy units or commercial firms to produce in hours or days parts that could take months to obtain through the standard supply system, said Liz McMichael, the additive manufacturing/digital thread IPT lead at NAVAIR.
William Frazer, a NAVAIR chief scientist, said what excites him about the additive manufacturing (AM) concept is “the ability to rapidly build parts,” through which “we can address one of the Navy’s biggest problems — sustainment and readiness.”
The Osprey critical component took 21 months from initial funding to successful flight largely due to the complexity of the part, the technical difficulty of working with the high-end metals and the requirement to meet safety standards. But McMichael mentioned two easier AM products: a cheap strap that protected the antenna on a carrier flight deck radio, saving thousands of dollars in replacements, and a plastic part for a pilot’s helmet that cost 75 cents and replaced a $200 component.