TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Airmen at Travis Air Force Base are implementing innovative strategies to reduce man hours and increase mission effectiveness.
Over the past several months, the base has implemented a variety of innovations including 3D printing and 3D scanning.
Cultivating a culture of innovation is essential to mission success, said Col. Matthew Leard, 60th Air Mobility Wing vice commander.
“At Travis, Airmen are empowered to identify and solve problems at their level, rapidly,” he said. “We want Airmen to think big and try the ideas others say will never work. It does not always have to be proven technology or have a business case. Let’s just try it, who knows it may just work.”
The innovations under way at Travis were made possible when the Air Force distributed $64 million in Squadron Innovation Funds in an effort to increase readiness, reduce cost, save time and enhance lethality of the force.
In October, Travis procured a 3D hand scanner capable of producing three-dimensional representations of aircraft parts. The device has also been used to inspect aircraft damage.
“The scanner displays the deepest part of a dent to the nearest thousandth of an inch,” said Master Sgt. Christopher Smithling, 60th Maintenance Squadron assistant section chief for aircraft structural maintenance. “The scanner can identify the shape of a dent, as well as if it’s sharp, smooth or round, which allows us to give our engineers a better damage analysis than we could before.”
Smithling said the scanner was first used in November to inspect the landing gear of a C-17 Globemaster III after a bird strike, and over the past month, has greatly reduced the time required to complete damage inspections.
“One of our C-5 aircraft went through a hail storm in 2013 and we found many dents on all the panels,” he said. “We’ve performed an inspection of this aircraft every 180 days and we’ve had to measure every dent that’s still on the wing’s surface. The first few times we did that, it took us 48 hours. We had that C-5 in our hangar last week and we were able to inspect the four primary structural panels in 30 minutes.”
The 60th MXS is also in the process of procuring two 3D printers, one polymer printer and one metal printer, so they can reproduce aircraft parts.
“With the two additive manufacturing units, we will be able to grab any aircraft part, scan it, and within four to eight hours, we will have a true 3D drawing of it that we can send to the additive manufacturing unit to print it,” said Smithling.
That capability, he said, will decrease the time Travis aircraft are out of service.
“Right now, we could have one of our aircraft down for about 48 hours while we try to get the part it needs,” he said. “Once we have this additive manufacturing capability in place, we will likely be able to print and replace parts in a few hours and return our aircraft to flying status much quicker.”
Innovation is also leading to improved patient care at David Grant USAF Medical Center, the largest medical center in the Air Force. The Dental Clinic at DGMC received a Form2 Printer in August, which has enabled the clinic to produce a variety of items used for dental surgery.
“We currently fabricate surgical guides, hard night guards and dental models or casts with different variations,” said Capt. Geoffrey Johnston, 60th Dental Squadron prosthodontist. “We are also investigating printing temporary crown and bridge restorations, complete and partial dentures and orthodontic clear aligners.”
“Prior to additive manufacturing techniques, there were shapes and designs for instruments and restorations in dentistry that were either impossible or so expensive and cumbersome to fabricate, they were not feasible to create,” Johnston added. “The Form2 overcomes those pitfalls and does so with resins that have been determined biocompatible for intraoral use.”
This technology leads to improved patient care, said Johnston.
“By merging 3D radiographs of jaws with 3D models of actual teeth, we are able to plan exact placement of implants and with 3D printing technology added to that, we are able to carry out those plans with extreme precision,” he said. “This precision of placement gives us the ability to more predictably avoid nerves, vessels and adjacent teeth with our implant placement. Also, this technology enables us to have temporary crowns made before dental implant surgery to attach to the implants at the time of surgery.”
While Travis has implemented a variety of innovations in 2018, the base is also focused on innovation in the future.
A mobile food ordering system is expected to be online in January 2019. The service will allow customers to order and pay for food without visiting an eatery on base. It will also be the first of its kind at an Air Force base in the continental United States.
“We serve approximately 42,000 customers a week at our facilities and we noticed, especially during lunch and dinner hours, long lines which can lead to long waits,” said Brian Floyd, 60th Force Support Squadron deputy director. “Wait times in some cases exceeded 40 minutes from the time the customer got in line to the time he or she received their food. Quicker service will allow Airmen to get and eat their food in a timely manner and prevent potential mission delays.”
Floyd said the online ordering system will be available to everyone at Travis. He also said the service is expected to decrease wait times by 35 percent.
“We are also working on a long-term plan to provide delivery services so Airmen won’t have to pick up their food themselves,” he said.
Currently, Travis Airmen are working on a dozen 2018 SIF funded projects and preparing to submit innovative ideas for the 2019 SIF campaign. Airmen can submit ideas through the U.S. Air Force Ideation Platform at https://usaf.ideascalegov.com/.