TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.— For only five cents, Travis Air Force Base’s Phoenix Spark Lab used its 3D printers March 2 to replace a damaged part for a base firetruck and return it to the inventory in one day.
By 3D printing the part, rather than ordering a replacement, the base saved upward of $2,700, according to Senior Master Sgt. Phil Edwards, Phoenix Spark Lab superintendent. He said the members of the lab used only five cents worth of plastic.
The quick-turn approach through 3D printing also enabled the firetruck to return more rapidly to service. By putting out the singular logistical fire, the Spark Cell bolstered the fire department’s ability to protect against potential damages to aircraft on the flight line.
The damaged part helps control the pressure of the flow of a truck’s fire retardant. The gear had been stripped, diminishing its ability to control the pressure, Edwards said.
“It’s a pretty special truck, because it has the capability to shoot a big wall of fire retardant,” Edwards said.
Jesse Jimenez, 60th Logistics Readiness Squadron mobile equipment metal mechanic, said that while his shop is capable of manufacturing many things, including this part, custom-making this piece would have been time consuming.
“We were going to create it out of metal,” Jimenez said. “We have a plasma cutting table. We would’ve had to file each tooth accordingly.”
Jimenez said the gear has 62 teeth, which would have been “very tedious” to cut individually. He said creating a new gear from metal and cutting it would have taken at least two to three days, but 3D printing the piece got the truck back in service the next day.
“There’s many ways to skin a cat, but this would be the best way in this instance,” he said.
Jimenez is “no stranger to reverse-engineering parts using traditional manufacturing methods,” Edwards said.
The Phoenix Spark Lab was able to reverse engineer and 3D print the damaged gear in approximately one hour thanks to Staff Sgt. Max Estrada, Phoenix Spark’s noncommissioned officer in charge of agile manufacturing.
“Estrada demonstrated the true value of computer-aided design and 3D printing capabilities to the Travis AFB mission,” Edwards said.
“In this case, he knew that 3D printing was the only way to precisely repair such a small yet vital part,” Edwards said.
Jimenez said his shop is adding a 3D printer of its own to tackle problems such as this in the future.