Artisans in the Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) plasma spray shop are forging the way of the future using additive manufacturing (AM) to create parts that make their jobs easier, saves thousands of taxpayer’ dollars and gets products back to the warfighter in record time.
AM is a popular cutting edge technology that is being incorporated into industrial processes to reduce cost and improve efficiency. In the past, artisans used milling equipment to create parts from solid block. Today, programmers are using computer-aided design files to “grow” aircraft components, fixtures and tools using a special three-dimensional (3D) printer. The printer uses a plaster-like powder and binder to build 3D-shaped objects layer by layer.
The team recently used the AM process to create a small toy-like plastic gun mount that solved an expensive and time-consuming repair problem.
The part is an essential replacement for the 6P thermal spray gun extension tool which is used to apply a thin, protective metal coating on front and rear aircraft engine casings. This coating protects the part from damage as the engine blades rotate inside the casing.
“We determined an issue with the thermal spray gun a few months ago when the extension piece, used to apply the coating at a 90-degree angle within the casing, kept blowing out,” explained Mike Allen, work leader of the FRCSE plasma spray shop. “We couldn’t get the spray gun far enough into the casing to spray the coating at the required specifications. The extensions we tried were not compatible for the job.”
“Each extension costs nearly $1,800 to replace and we were going through three to four each month,” said Allen. “We went to several manufacturers to try to purchase better quality 90-degree extensions but none were available.”
This drove Allen and his co-worker, Brian Veek, FRCSE metalizing equipment operator, into action to redesign a standard 6P spray gun mount to eliminate the need for the extension part. Veek drew a template and Allen had the gun mount fabricated by welding pieces of scrap metal, drilling fittings, and installing hoses.
“We used the modified 6P gun to spray all of the F404 and F414 stator cases as well as the TF-34 rear cases,” said Veek. “These programs were enduring tremendous set-backs due to our inability to produce production parts. The F414 program actually contracted out the front and rear stator cases, which have since been returned to FRCSE due to the modified gun we designed and built. We have not had any issues with malfunctioning since utilizing the new gun design.”
“Furthermore, we were able to substantially reduce the discrepant rework due to test failures from the materials lab because the modified 6P gun can run a more robust flame than the 6P extensions,” Veek added. “This has saved a substantial amount of money due to rework and associated costs, as well as reduced turn-around-time and restored our ability to provide for the war fighter.”
Shop workers continued processing engine casings using the new metal mount until FRCSE Industrial Engineering Technician Randy Meeker collaborated with the team through Dale Perry, FRCSE industrial processes general foreman, to use the new AM process.
“I was asked if I could help out with some ideas the plasma shop workers had regarding AM,” stated Meeker. “After meeting with Brian to discuss the metal plasma gun mount, we came up with a process to manufacture them using their original prototype. We are currently building three mounts, so the shop will be able to use three machines to increase output capacity. The machines can run continuously through the night for even more efficiency.”
“We created a model and redesigned an AM plastic plasma gun mount similar to the metal mount,” said Meeker. “The mount made on our 3D printer needed to be thicker to support the spray gun being used on the robotic arm. We produced several lightweight prototypes to ensure the spray gun specifications were accurate. Once we determined it was correct, I added strength to the design by attaching gussets and flanges to the mount. The beauty of prototyping with AM is that you can change your design and print it in hours rather than weeks.”
“We now have another prototype in production to create the part using a stronger material,” added Meeker. “It has been a very successful project and I’m currently in the process of documenting and certifying the mount in the Configuration Management Professional (CMPRO) system. CMPRO is product lifecycle management software used by the Navy to manage engineering, configuration, inventory and product data.”
According to Allen, the new AM spray gun mount enables the shop to continue providing quality service to the fleet. “The part is working beautifully and is saving us a lot of money in spray gun extension replacements,” he said. “It has definitely been a great collaborative effort.”
For more information, contact FRCSE Public Affairs at (904) 790-4749.