3D Printing Saves Money, Time for Repair on F-35B’s First Shipboard Deployment
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — A small repair to an F-35B Lightning II strike fighter was made possible by a 3D printer on board a Navy amphibious assault ship, an act that saved tens of thousands of dollars and shortened the repair time, a Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) commander said.
Col. Tye R. Wallace, commander of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, speaking May 24 to the Potomac Institute in Arlington, Virginia, on the two patrols in the Pacific made by the MEU within the past year, said that one of the six embarked F-35Bs on their first operational shipboard deployment board USS Wasp this spring suffered breakage of a bump stock, a small plastic piece on a landing gear door that prevents metal-on-metal contact when the landing gear door is closed.
“You couldn’t order the little plastic piece by itself,” Wallace said. “You had to order the whole panel: $64,000 and two-weeks of time to ship it out to us. The squadron [Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121], being ingenious, went to our logistics battalion [that had a 3D printer] and said, ‘Can you see if you can build this little plastic part?’”
The part was built, and “we had a tech rep with us who, by luck, knew some people at NAVAIR [Naval Air Systems Command],” Wallace said. “He floated it up to NAVAIR, got it approved, and a couple days later the part was on the plane, and we were flying the airplane. For about 25 to 50 cents worth of plastic, we had the jet up operational and flying, versus 64 grand and two weeks of waiting, [thanks to a young sergeant and this printer].”
Wallace said the 3D printer also was used to make covers for EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] robots, temporary pintels for machine guns, throttles for small boats, and broken handles on personal wall lockers.
“If it’s made out of plastic, you can probably make it,” he said. “3D printing is a wave of the future that we need to start making happen.