The US Air Force’s (USAF) 60th Maintenance Squadron (MXS) at Travis Air Force Base has become the first field unit to have a certified 3D printer.

The Stratasys F900 3D printer is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the US Air Force Advanced Technology and Training Center.

It is designed to print plastic parts up to 36in × 24in × 36in and will allow the USAF to create the required non-structural aircraft parts.

The printer uses a material known as Ultem 9085, a flame-retardant high-performance thermoplastic that is claimed to be more flexible, dense and strong than typical plastic.

Use of 3D printing technology will enable the USAF to make cost and time savings.

60th MXS aircraft metals technology section chief master sergeant John Higgs said: “It brings us a capability that we’ve never had before. There’s so many possibilities available to us right now. We’re just scratching the surface.”

USAF technicians have been allowed to download blueprints from an online database approved by the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI).

Higgs added: “The Joint Engineering Data Management Information Control System (JEDMICS) is where we go to download already approved blueprints. Now, the University of Dayton Research Institute is working with the engineers to get those parts they developed into JEDMICS.”

The squadron used the Stratasys F900 to print replacement latrine covers on the C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft.

Higgs further said: “The latrine covers we just printed usually take about a year from the time they’ve been ordered to the time they’ve been delivered. We printed two of the covers in 73 hours.”

In a statement, the airforce said that it took eight months to bring the printer online.

The process to get the system operational involved facility requirements, installation and certification processes.

UDRI certified three members from the 60th MXS to operate the printer.

The maintenance shop aims to create products to meet the needs of every organisation.

In January, the USAF installed a metallic 3D-printed aircraft part on an operational F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft.