Last month, the US Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office (AFRSO) hosted its inaugural Advanced Manufacturing Olympics event. A total of 64 teams competed in the free, four-day virtual event for the chance to win cash prizes starting at $40,000 by using additive manufacturing and reverse engineering to solve some of the Air Force’s major sustainment issues in regards to aircraft parts. The teams were tasked with completing technical challenges: TDP Replay, Box of Parts Floor Exercise, Approval Sprints, Supply Chain Marathon, and Material Hurdles. 25 subject matter experts from academia, aerospace and defense companies, US military, Amazon, Ford, and the FAA judged the results, and Colorado-based Elementum 3D, which creates and supplies metal 3D printing materials, took first prize in one of the categories.
“AMO’s Technical Challenges tasked teams to find innovative solutions to some of the Air Force’s most significant sustainment issues to improve readiness, decrease cost, and shorten approval time,” the AFRSO team wrote. “The ultimate goal of AMO was to bring together the advanced manufacturing community to find innovative ways the technology can be utilized to sustain the Air Force fleet.”
The event was originally scheduled to be in-person, but had to quickly switch to a virtual format due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But this didn’t seem to slow things down, as the AMO featured lots of interesting speakers and sessions, time for peer networking, training, a virtual expo, and technology demos, in addition to the actual competition.
For the TDP Replay, teams had to accurately recreate a 3D printed part from an existing Technical Data Package, and the Box of Parts Floor Exercise required teams to demonstrate how 3D scanning and 3D printing could be used to re-engineer a part without an existing plan. Approval Sprints teams had to use innovative technologies to design and deliver a 3D printed polymer replacement for the rapid deployment of an F-16 aircraft component, while the Supply Chain Marathon required an advanced manufacturing solution to an Air Force supply chain problem in order to satisfy warfighter requirements.
Elementum 3D competed in the Material Hurdles challenge, which had teams using their own specialized materials to 3D print an accurate recreated part, and beat eight other finalists to take home the gold medal.
“We entered our A7050-RAM2 aluminum alloy to deliver on the AMO event’s initiative to obtain a material capable of being 3D printed into components for use in demanding Air Force conditions,” said Elementum 3D’s President Dr. Jacob Nuechterlein, who founded the company in 2014.
The USAF wants to use aluminum alloys to manufacture its components because they can be quickly produced on-demand, while also lowering raw material requirements and making the end components more lightweight. Advanced manufacturing technologies can also help to decrease the AFRSO’s sustainment costs, which make up 70% of the USAF’s current budget.
Elementum 3D’s A7050-RAM2 aluminum alloy feedstock can help the agency reach these goals. The lightweight but strong material features high toughness, excellent fatigue life, and good stress corrosion cracking resistance, making it an excellent choice for the aerospace industry.
Nuechterlein said, “We are honored to have our commercially available high-strength A7050-RAM2 aluminum alloy selected as the AM material to best meet the USAF’s challenge goal of demonstrating advances in AM aluminum material properties to address sustainment of traditionally manufactured 7075 and 7050 aluminum parts.”
The AFRSO is already planning for next year’s Advanced Manufacturing Olympics.
“If there’s one thing we learned during AMO, it’s that there’s never enough knowledge,” the AFRSO team concluded. “The field of advanced manufacturing is constantly innovating and evolving, providing more opportunities to learn and grow.”
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