3-D Printing Takes Shape at FRCSE, Gets Orion Back in Air

Developing a repair solution to fix a $36 million aircraft using Legos is probably a little farfetched. However, a team of tool designers, artisans and engineers from Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) found acrylonitrile butadiene styrene—also known as Lego plastic—to be the perfect ingredient to repair a P-3 Orion.

The aircraft arrived at Naval Air Station Jacksonville for repair last October after sustaining rare damage to a wheel-well truss. A truss is two objects assembled as a whole to support a structure – in this case, the nose landing gear of a 100,000-pound airplane.

“Not only was this a unique and complex repair, we were under a time constraint with the runway scheduled to close this summer,” said Randall Meeker, mechanical engineering technician and tool designer. “If that bird didn’t leave the air station before June, it would be stuck here for a long time.”

Meeker and his colleagues began working with counterparts at Lockheed Martin to remedy the problem. After months of deliberation, Lockheed Martin engineers developed a repair fitting that would fix the issue.

“They sent us the design of the repair fitting so we could develop tooling to install it,” said Santiago Alvarez, mechanical engineering technician and tool designer. “We used additive manufacturing capabilities to print a 3-D prototype of the fitting. When we tested it, we noticed some flaws in the design.”

The repair fitting design required additional modifications before it was suitable for installation, according to Meeker.

“It would have taken at least a month-and-a-half for Lockheed Martin to manufacture that fitting before they could ship it to us,” he said. “If we had received the part as originally designed, we would’ve missed our deadline.”

While Lockheed Martin corrected the design, military depot personnel began creating the tooling, according to FRCSE Aerospace Engineer Rosa Cafasso.

Additional personnel involved in the project included: FRCSE Planners and Estimators Mark Lane and Duane Duncan, Machinist Mark Richardson, and Sheet Metal Mechanic Mike McGee.

“This is the first time in history we have had to make this repair on a P-3,” she said. “We worked on this project for months and it was very tedious. Thanks to everyone’s effort and our 3-D printing capability, were able to come up with the proper fitting to repair it.”

Approximately $300 worth of ‘Lego plastic’ was used to print the original prototype; however, the value of saving so much time getting this plane back to the fleet makes the capability invaluable, according to Meeker.

“That aircraft is on its way back to its squadron thanks to this little bit of plastic,” he said.

Source: Naval Air Systems Command
Date: May 18, 2015