TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Earlier this year, the Rapid Engineering of Composites, Low Observables and Innovative Materials Lab at Hill Air Force Base printed a 3D part for the F-22 Raptor. The part works like clamshell that protects the F-22 throttle during maintenance processes.
The innovation caught the attention of field maintainers and other services, and now the lab is up for a major award, along with innovation teams at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, and Robins AFB, Georgia.
Air Force Materiel Command is recognizing the Air Force Sustainment Center Innovation Center Team for their many applications of technological advances by nominating the team for the national Gears of Government Award.
“These guys are doing incredible things every day with this technology,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Blackwell, director of AFSC Innovation Centers. “It is exciting to see. I really think this is a strong candidate to go far.”
The Gears of Government Award recognizes federal employees and teams who are exceptionally successful in mission results, customer service and accountable stewardship.
The Innovation Center Team is making an impact in each of those areas with the establishment of an innovation center at each of the three air logistics complexes within AFSC and by using reverse engineering and advanced manufacturing technologies.
“The innovation center team moved these game-changing technologies beyond hype and demonstrated their capability to revolutionize sustainment,” said Kevin Stamey, Air Force Sustainment Center executive director. “Now they are working to expand these capabilities across the entire enterprise.”
The Reverse Engineering and Critical Tooling Lab at Tinker AFB, the Reverse Engineering, Avionics Redesign and Manufacturing Lab at Robins AFB, and the lab at Hill AFB have together saved the Air Force millions of dollars through reverse engineering and the 3D printing of parts, tooling and even prototype circuit boards.
“The innovation centers that we’ve built are really a testament to some forward thinking heroics by individuals at the different air logistics complexes,” said Dr. Albert Lowas, AFSC Engineering and Technical Management technical director. “The new technologies coming available such as additive manufacturing and in avionics really do promise to help us move our depot maintenance to a much higher level of efficiency and effectiveness through the ability to rapidly make replacement parts.”
Units that heard about the F-22 part created by Hill AFB have asked if versions of the product could be created for their use.
“It’s a capability intended to solve problems across the Air Force, not just Air Force Sustainment Center problems,” Blackwell said. “We just need you to tell us what your problems are and give us a shot at it.”
In addition to cost savings, the work of the innovation centers has shaved years off the traditional manufacturing and procurement processes.
“It’s revolutionary,” Blackwell said. “We are at the very cusp of a new industrial revolution and there is a lot that has to be learned before we are able to truly unleash its full capacity.”
The innovation centers also partner with academia, which not only allows for problem-solving partnerships with university students, but also generates interest in AFSC work among the future engineering workforce, a population highly recruited by AFSC.
“Now we can start telling our story to university students,” Blackwell said. “We’re not working with sticks and stones on your grandfather’s B-52. We’re actually doing leading edge, state-of-the-art stuff here.”
(75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs contributed to this article.)