ROBINS AFB, Ga. --- Looking for a safe, agile and cost-efficient way to replace an aircraft part? The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Metal Technology Office is a great place to start.
The MTO, comprising a group of technical experts, works directly with field units who perform repairs to develop solutions using metals technology, or MT, and additive manufacturing technology, ensuring the units have what they need to be successful.
“We are the subject matter experts for the Metals Technology career field, which involves additive manufacturing, machining, welding, heat-treating, parts repair and fabrication,” said Che Dacalio, an MTO engineering technician. “We do site visits throughout the United States visiting MT shops, assessing their work, capabilities, equipment and providing training as needed.”
There are approximately 190 MT shops located across all major commands, and each shop is equipped with modern manufacturing equipment set up to augment supply system gaps.
“The infrastructure of MT Shops makes agile manufacturing a reality for the Air Force,” Dacalio added. “We are trying to help our (system program offices) recognize the organic manufacturing potential that has long been established within the Air Force. MT shops offer rapid response manufacturing and repair solutions for unique AF part production and stock exhaustion problems. We seek to maximize MT shop utilization to sustain continuous Air Force flight and improve mission generation by supplying parts on-demand, anytime, from almost any Air Force installation and at a fraction of the costs when compared to similar contracted efforts.”
When a flight-critical spinner backing plate from a U.S. Air Force Academy T-51 Mustang trainer aircraft cracked, there wasn’t a replacement available since the part was obsolete. As with many supply challenges, production-level drawings did not exist. Thus, any future part produced for the Mustang required Federal Aviation Administration, coordination and approval prior to flight authorization.
The office worked with the USAFA T-51 Chief Engineer and the Advanced Technology and Training Center of Middle Georgia to reverse engineer, produce a 3D model of the original part and create FAA-approved manufacturing drawings. Dacalio then coordinated with the MT shop in Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, to locally manufacture 15 new spinner backing plates within six-and-a-half weeks. The spinner backing plate was eventually installed on the T-51.
The MTO team also supports mission-critical parts within the Air Force armaments sustainment, support equipment and vehicle divisions, as well as tooling, fixtures and non-critical weapon system components and parts.
“A number of F-16 (Fighting Falcon) M61 (Vulcan) cannons had experienced cracked front access housing,” Dacalio said. “The estimate to replace the parts was well over a year. We worked with an MT shop at Mountain Home (AFB), and they were able to locally manufacture the part using a Computer Numerical Control and send back the parts within 60 days.”
“Our sole purpose in the (MTO) is to increase awareness and performance of the aircraft (MT) or (MT) career field,” said Master Sgt. Joshua Bemis, MTO superintendent. “We support the unique capability, unmatched by any other field or intermediate-maintenance-level base entity that metals tech can provide. We are steering the future of manufacturing methods in maintenance through the implementation of technologies, such as additive manufacturing (3D printing), while not losing focus on the benefits and requirements for legacy machinery, such as Mills and Lathes.”