WEST BETHESDA, Md. --- In a first-of-its-kind effort, the Additive Manufacturing (AM) Warfare Center Working Group (WCWG) recently combined their knowledge and resources to use 3-D printing to rapidly respond to a critical need from the fleet.
The group, comprising members of all of Naval Sea Systems Command's (NAVSEA) warfare centers, began working in late May to respond to a request from Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) to restore stalled training operations for the T-45 Goshawk.
Liz McMichael, the AM integrated project team lead, said NAVAIR sought help when naval air crews flying the T-45 for the Aircrew Systems Program Office (PMA-202) began experiencing an increase in physiological episodes (PEs). A PE occurs when the aircrew experiences physical effects, from a lack of oxygen, contamination of air flow, or fluctuation in cabin air pressure, that impair their ability to safely fly their aircraft.
The Navy concluded a comprehensive review of the issue, April 21. The review determined that PEs are a complex problem with possible interrelated causes, and the investigation into the root causes of the problem is ongoing.
McMichael said that while a longer-term solution is being sought, the short-term solution is a flip-top valve that will allow pilots to breathe cabin air at lower altitudes. She enlisted the assistance of the other members of the working group to help Naval Air Stations (NAS) Patuxent River and Webster Field quickly produce the valves in the needed numbers.
Sam Pratt, a mechanical engineer with Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Carderock Division's AM Project Office, said the first parts came off the printer less than 48 hours after they got the call.
"It's a really cool example of what you can do with additive manufacturing on short notice in the real world," Pratt said. "In this case, we've got this need. A critical system is down. We need to figure out how we can fix it and get these pilots back in the air. We needed a lot of parts on really short notice.
"With AM, you don't need any tooling, you just need the design and, in this case, we have that. So there's no need to spend millions of dollars over many months to create an injection molding shop and deal with all the logistics there. In the span of about a week and a half, we've gone from design to approval to manufacturing and then installation."
McMichael said meeting the short timeline to print the valves, which were designed to be printed on industrial polymer 3-D printers, would have been impossible without using resources across NAVAIR and NAVSEA.
Jonathan Hopkins, deputy branch head of NSWC Carderock Division's Additive Manufacturing Project Office, said the Carderock personnel engaged the rest of the working group to establish a distributed manufacturing base, which included printing at the nearby NSWC Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Division and NSWC Dahlgren Division and Combat Direction Systems Activity Dam Neck to provide parts by the June 2 deadline.
NAVAIR provided funding to NSWC Carderock Division, May 26, which moved forward with a unified AM presence among the command's codes and partner printers, producing 48 of the needed valves over Memorial Day weekend, and more than 300 altogether.
Frank Neukam, supervisor of NSWC Carderock Division's Engineering Support Group, said collaborating within Carderock and the AM working group to quickly meet this need was an awesome experience for him; one he found particularly meaningful as the work produced a tangible benefit to the fleet and its war fighters.
"This is exactly what this type of technology should be used for," Neukam said. "I think it came out really well, and it gives us hope for the future, absolutely."