RAPID CITY – A team of students and faculty from South Dakota Mines helped Air Force personnel use cold spray technology to repair a broken hinge attached to the fuselage of a B-1B Lancer.
Cold spraying, an additive manufacturing method, is essentially spraying onto metal that can be machined to fit. The technology uses metallic microparticles which are sprayed at very high speeds. These tiny particles then adhere to the original metal upon impact, forming a dense coating or deposit. In many cases, cold spray can be used to restore worn and damaged aircraft parts to extend life.
Without the cold spray technology, repairing this B-1 would have required a lengthy repair process and an estimated cost of over half a million dollars that would have included dismantling part of the aircraft and the supply of spare parts for a recovered bomber.
“It would normally have involved eight weeks of downtime. With the cold spray we were able to do it in a matter of hours, ”said Brian James, a PhD. graduate student in Mines and chief engineer of the 28th Maintenance Group at Ellsworth Air Force Base. James is part of a team inside the 15,000 square foot additive manufacturing facility in Ellsworth. He added that this technology is a game-changer for aircraft maintenance.
James says the innovative repair of this B-1 has been going on for 14 years. It started in the mid-2000s with research into cold spray technology at Mines looking to find better ways to restore obsolete and legacy aircraft components. As research and development progressed over the years, this led to spinoffs and the addition of additive manufacturing technology to the 28th Maintenance Group’s toolbox.
“This facility in Ellsworth is the first of its kind,” said James. “What we’re doing here is taking technology that has been tested and proven in the lab and injecting it directly into the combat level.”
James noted that there is a long list of individuals, organizations and industry partners, political leaders who have contributed to the success of the program, including Dr Heather Wilson, former secretary of the Air Force and Mines president, industrial partners like VRC Metal Systems, Army Air Force Research Laboratories and many Mining students and professors who have contributed hard work and expertise over the years.
“The school has been a great support, especially Dr Grant Crawford who helps us find solutions to the problems we have encountered along the way,” said James. “More recently, the addition of the X-Force Fellowship program through the National Security Innovation Network brings young innovators to the table,” added James.
Zac Hogan, mechanical engineering graduate and member of X-Force de Mines, is the latest edition of Ellsworth’s additive manufacturing team.
“It’s wonderful to work on real world issues and there is creative freedom in the approach here,” Hogan said. “What interests them is problem solving and how we do it is up to us. We are tackling the problem from all angles and we are working to ensure that we are using all available resources to find solutions. “
Hogan is working with X-Force scholars from universities across the country on the project.
“Zac has been a huge benefit to the program, he brought a fantastic work ethic and fantastic problem solving to the team,” said James.
The work of this team shows that the use of cold spray technology improves the combat readiness of existing systems like the B-1. David Darling, who spent 26 years in Air Force maintenance, is the site manager at the Ellsworth additive manufacturing plant. He says the Ellsworth additive manufacturing plant’s range of test equipment can be used to demonstrate the strength of any repair.
“We have a full lab that includes a scanning electron microscope, hardness testers, string tests and other equipment,” Darling said. “So within hours of application we can see the test results which show our success.”
For the Air Force, cold spraying increases the life of a weapon system, and for ground maintenance personnel, the technology offers a new, highly cost-effective tool that is revolutionizing the repair of critical components. from the plane. Staff Sgt. Chynna Patterson, a machinist and welder assigned to 28 Maintenance Squadron in Ellsworth, spent 10 years working on other planes like the A-10 Warthog.
“This technology allows us to maintain the aircraft in a way that would previously have been very time consuming and very expensive,” she said. Patterson said she believes additive manufacturing and cold spraying can be used on other Air Force-scale aircraft systems. “Learning all the applications of this technology has been wonderful,” she added.
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