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Air Force Saves Millions of Dollars with a Few 3D Printed Parts

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[Image courtesy of Matthew Kohl]

It’s amazing how much money can be saved just by using 3D printing to modify items in small ways, and this is evident especially frequently in the military, where something as small as a radio clip can save tens of thousands of dollars – or more. At the Yokota Air Base in Japan, Air Force service members have found a way to potentially save millions of dollars, not to mention improving air crew safety, by using 3D printing to modify a standard-issue gas mask into an aircraft oxygen system.

“We took the mask and added some off-the-shelf parts and some 3D-printed parts and converted it into a piece of equipment that can work in an aircraft,” said Senior Master Sgt. David Siemiet, an aircrew flight equipment superintendent.

The Aircrew Eye/Respiratory Protection System, or AERPS, which is used now, is expensive, heavy and prone to issues that can take a long time to repair because of the waiting time for replacement parts. But the M-50 joint-service, general purpose mask is lightweight and cheap – and when hooked up to an oxygen system, air flows through its chemical filters to the wearer, whose eyes are protected by goggles, according to Siemiet.

To build the prototype, the airmen took inspiration from an Army system that hooks soldiers’ masks to air blowers to help them cope with the stifling environment inside a battle tank. The airmen came up with a cap that blocks airflow into one side of the mask and an adaptor that allows it to attach to a hose that can be plugged into an oxygen system. AERPS Ultra, as the airmen call it, was created using standard parts and two 3D printed components made on a printer that Sen. Airman David Petrich bought for a few hundred dollars.

Yokota Air Base [Image: US Air Force/Osakabe Yasuo]

Modifying one mask costs about 75 cents but has the potential to save the Air Force at least $8 million. The M-50 also weighs less than a pound, compared to the 40 pounds of chemical protection gear currently used by air crews. Unlike the current AERPS, the modified mask does not require a power supply that needs to be hooked up to on-board electricity or use expensive batteries.

“You can wear the mask onto the plane and latch in and you are good to go,” Petrich said.

According to Tech. Sgt. Eric Lundeen, the airmen 3D printed a dozen parts before coming up with a working prototype.

“3D printing is something new. There are only a dozen bases out there with 3D printers,” he said.

The airmen are planning to send the design to Air Force technology experts, and hope that the Air Force will send 3D printers to bases all over the world.

“This is going to affect every pilot in the Air Force,” Lundeen said. “It gives them a lot more flexibility and mobility, increases safety and saves a ton of money.”

The masks, which are much more comfortable as well as cheaper and safer, have been approved for flight testing in Japan in July.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Source: Stars and Stripes]

 

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