The US Air Force’s (USAF) Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex (OC-ALC) is set to implement its strategic plan to integrate 3-D printing technology into every aspect of its airpower sustainment mission.
Also known as additive manufacturing, the 3-D printing technology is expected to address several needs ranging from making aircraft engine parts to printing electronic components.
OC-ALC top scientist and engineer Dr Kristian Olivero said: "We’ve realised that additive manufacturing is a technology that is mature enough, that it is being adopted very strongly in industry right now, and that we as a depot need to build this capability.
"This is a step-change technology that will really change in some ways how we can do depot maintenance."
The 3-D printing machines will be able to manufacture objects from the provided raw materials, including metal pellets, ceramics and gypsum, the USAF stated.
According to Olivero, the technology can produce replacement engine parts directly at repair and overhaul sites despite shipping from any other locations.
In addition, the existing parts of oldest planes can be reverse engineered to meet replacing requirements.
However, the technology also has disadvantages in some cases since some jet engine components must be capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures and physical stresses.
Olivero added: "For metals in particular, the additive manufactured properties are typically somewhat lower, so what you gain in speed and flexibility, you lose some mechanical properties.
"You can get good characteristics compared to 10 or 20 years ago, but it’s not as good yet."
The strategic plan for additive manufacturing is scheduled to be completed in the coming months.