Later next week, Robins Air Force Base will play host to the latest and greatest military technologies as military decision makers and industry thought leaders come together for a Tech Day. These events are like condensed, concentrated military conferences and expos, packing an entire conference’s worth of activities and discussions into a single, intense day of technology demonstrations, meetings and conversations.
Tech Days happen frequently throughout the year, hosted by a number of different military bases in a variety of different locations across the country. So, what makes this Tech Day special? Where it’s located. Robins Air Force Base is home to the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, a group within the Air Force that is responsible for vehicle maintenance and the repair of many of the weapons systems that the Air Force relies on to help accomplish its missions and empower its warfighters.
The maintenance of weapons systems and other military platforms is one area where a Tech Day is essential. There are a host of new technologies revolutionizing the manufacturing industry that are applicable to maintenance and repair operations that could help to make the individuals at Robins Air Force Base – and across the rest of the Air Force – more effective and efficient at their jobs, and many of these new technologies and advancements rely on digital design solutions. Let’s take a look at some of the ways today’s advanced digital design solutions could make vehicle maintenance more manageable for the military.
From ordering or machining to designing and fabricating
In the past, if a simple part – such as a metal bracket that stabilizes something essential – happened to break on an aircraft or other military vehicle, the maintenance personnel responsible for getting it fixed and the aircraft back in the air used to have two options:
- Contact the original manufacturer of the aircraft or a centralized parts repository/depot within the Air Force to order a replacement.
- Machine the part from a larger piece of metal through subtractive manufacturing.
These were perfectly acceptable alternatives to acquiring a replacement part for an aircraft – but they weren’t without their drawbacks and limitations. Ordering parts can be time consuming. That part could potentially be half a world away, and by the time the order is received, processed and fulfilled, the aircraft that needs it could have potentially been out of action for weeks, if not months.
Machining the part from a larger piece of metal via subtractive manufacturing also comes with challenges. Subtractive manufacturing is often limited in what it can fabricate. There are simply some designs that are impossible to make this way – especially in the field.
Luckily, today’s advanced digital design solutions are helping to make more options available to military machine shops and vehicle maintenance personnel.
Today’s advanced digital design solutions can enable generative design and additive manufacturing – a process that many people refer to today as 3d printing. Generative design takes a natural, almost-evolutionary approach to designing new products or parts. Utilizing advanced software, designers input desired goals and limitations (size constraints, cost constraints, etc.) and allow that software to generate multiple disparate products or parts that could be fabricated to accomplish the goal. The results can often involve designs that are original and unique from what human designers would create themselves.
Additive manufacturing – or 3d printing – involves the creation of a product or part by continuously adding new layers of material until the final product is fabricated. The material that is used for 3d printing can range from durable plastics, to concrete to metal. But even more exciting is that 3d printing can open the door to fabricating designs and shapes that are impossible to create through other manufacturing processes – including subtractive manufacturing.
Alone, additive manufacturing could be used to fabricate new low-risk parts that are impossible to make on-site through other fabrication methods. Together, generative design and additive manufacturing can open the door to the design and fabrication of new solutions that are simpler, lighter, cheaper or otherwise better than what was utilized in the past.
For example, 3d printing a digital design could result in a single part that does the same job as an assembly comprised of five or six different parts. This is possible because additive manufacturing can make a complex shape that is one part, while traditional manufacturing could not. And the end result would be lighter, cheaper and more resilient since it’s not held together by fasteners or welds – it’s all one piece.
Needless to say, the potential for this is immense and exciting.
Military manufacturing of the next millennium
I’ve heard stories about digital design solutions and 3d printing already being used to create innovative solutions for the military. For example, the Navy relies on a radio that has an easily-detachable antenna. The nature of the antenna often led to it becoming unattached and subsequently lost – costing the Navy no small amount of money to keep replacing antennas. All of that changed when a fastidious and innovative individual designed and printed a simple part that held the antennas to the radios.
This is a simple thing, with a minor impact that results in small savings. But, over time, those savings add up for the military – especially since the military’s budget is often stretched thin to cover many important, mission-critical requirements. And it’s indicative of what could be for the military in the future.
Imagine a military with maintenance personnel capable of accessing a centralized repository of scanned and digitized designs and schematics. Those schematics could then be fabricated by a 3d printer utilizing a solution such as Autodesk’s Netfabb to ensure that it is an exact and accurate replica. That part could then be utilized to repair a vehicle or weapon that is disabled, or get a grounded aircraft back in the air. This is all possible with the new, advanced digital design solutions and 3d printing technologies that are available to the military today.
We’re exceptionally excited to be attending the upcoming Tech Day at Robins Air Force Base with Repro Products. Tech Days are all about exploring the new and future technologies that can make the military better, more effective, more efficient and more capable. The advancements in design and manufacturing are poised to do just that – making the maintenance and repair of military vehicles and weapons systems better, faster and more efficient. At this upcoming Tech Day, the logistics and maintenance personnel at Robins Air Force Base are going to see a new and better way to accomplish their mission, and we’re eager to show it to them.