Composite 3D printing specialist Impossible Objects is not only introducing its latest 3D printer, the CBAM-2, today: the company has lifted the lid on an exciting collaboration with the Utah Advanced Materials & Manufacturing Initiative (UAMMI) focused on defense applications. Specifically, UAMMI has successfully fit-checked its first 3D printed carbon fiber part—made using an Impossible Objects printer—for the United States Air Force.
The breakthrough component 3D printed by UAMMI is a first aid restraint strap for the B-1 aircraft at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. It is the first part to be born out of the initiative, which has been working for the past year to develop carbon fiber 3D printed parts for the U.S. Air Force. With federal support, the group aims to use 3D printing to manufacture replacement parts for older legacy aircraft on demand.
One of UAMMI’s main tasks over the past year has involved identifying non-critical parts for the Air Force which could be replaced using additive manufacturing technology. The first-aid strap, which had presented challenges in the past for the Air Force—posing a risk for the dislodging of first-aid kits—was one of the first parts to be recognized as viable for AM. Another factor that came into play for choosing the first part was that the original strap replacement went out of production, resulting in a costly and time-consuming process to order new parts.
“Additive manufacturing represents a huge opportunity for Utah’s advanced manufacturing industry,” said Jeff Edwards, UAMMI Executive Director. “The composite additive parts that we are creating for the Air Force will significantly reduce both the time and cost of aircraft repairs. There is a long list of parts we plan to test and this project will help position Utah as the technology leader and innovator in this new field.”
The new replacement strap was 3D printed on an Impossible Objects composite 3D printer from a carbon fiber-reinforced thermoplastic material. Last month, the part was delivered to the Tinker Air Force Base to be fit checked with an operational B-1 aircraft. The installation of the part—which involved making new rivet holes, inserting a buckle in the strap cavity and fastening the strap to the cockpit wall panel—went smoothly. Engineers who installed the strap were pleasantly surprised by how easy the installation went and how well the part fit.
The part was produced using Impossible Objects’ Composite-Based Additive Manufacturing (CBAM) technology, which enables the rapid production of fiber-reinforced thermoplastic parts that are both strong and lightweight. The Air Force is reportedly interested in exploring applications for the CBAM platform and is working with Impossible Objects to accelerate the technology.
Having successfully passed initial B-1 fit-checks, the 3D printed strap component will undergo additional testing to qualify it, including a Fire, Smoke and Toxicity Test at the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University. Once that is complete, the 3D printed composite part will be ready for Air Force approval and installation aboard operation B-1s.
UAMMI’s broader additive manufacturing project is funded through the Air Force Research Laboratory under America Makes’ Maturation of Advanced Manufacturing for Low Cost Sustainment (MAMLS) program. The goal of the project is to demonstrate how 3D printing can be used to efficiently produce replacement parts on demand. Other parts that are being explored through the program are instrumentation knobs, wiring harnesses, small brackets, electrical connectors and more.