Building future with innovative manufacturing

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Aaron Barnes, 86th Maintenance Squadron aircraft metals technology craftsman, previews a file to 3D print at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, July 21, 2022. Barnes, a member of the Additive Manufacturing Team, 3D-printed a maze for training with a boroscope, a small device with a camera and light used to inspect small spaces such as an aircraft engine. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Madelyn Keech)

Airmen assigned to the 86th Maintenance Squadron created the Air Force’s first Additive Manufacturing Team through the Hercules Innovation Lab in February.

The nine-person team tackles supply chain issues, saving time and money by using reverse-engineering and 3D-printers to create replacement parts and new devices to assist units across Ramstein.

“3D-printing a simple part could save thousands of dollars,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Kyle Shoup, 86th MXS Air Force Repair Enhancement Program manager. “The printing filament only costs about $25 for 2.2 pounds of material, or 33 cubic inches.”

The team’s goal is to help units with supply issues by fixing broken, missing or damaged equipment. For example, the team 3D-printed replacement knobs for an aircraft radio to repair it instead of buying a new radio.

3D-printed unexploded ordnances made for training purposes sit on a table at the Hercules Innovation Lab at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, July 8, 2022. Members of the Additive Manufacturing Team at Ramstein designed 3D-printed UXOs for Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians to use as training aids. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Madelyn Keech)

“One great advantage of 3D-printing is the unlimited amount of already-created parts we can get from open-source websites,” said Tech. Sgt. Justin Woody, 86th MXS aircraft metals technology noncommissioned officer in charge. “These websites enable us to help the customer rapidly by cutting out the hours of prototyping it takes to get something to fit just right.”

The Additive Manufacturing Team builds training aids or new tools to make day-to-day operations easier. Recently, the team created a device for the 86th Medical Group to mount medical biohazard waste bins to walls, making them more difficult to knock over and improving safety in medical workspaces.

“Our innovation is different because we can produce immediate results,” said Tech. Sgt. Aaron Barnes, 86th MXS aircraft metals technology craftsman. “If something is broken and nobody has figured out how to fix it for years, we can come in and have something within a couple of hours, days or a week at the longest. We can utilize a 3D-printer, a waterjet machine or a computer numerical control to use metal and plastics together to make a product.”

In a changing world, Airmen must come up with new, innovative ideas to maintain the world’s greatest Air Force.

The team meets at the Hercules Innovation Lab every Friday at 12:15 p.m. Interested members of Team Ramstein are able to attend the meetings to ask questions, submit a request, or join the team.