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The United States Air Force is about to save millions of dollars each year, all thanks to a 3D printed tool invented by a serving air force soldier. The tool costs just $15 to produce and asides from saving money, the tool will also spare aircraft technicians the dirty work of climbing inside fuel tanks. The pressurized leak detection cup will cut the hours needed to detect fuel leaks by up to 75%, cutting costs and labor hours for the Air Force.
US Air Force technicians must keep a careful eye on the force’s older aircraft, such as the KC-135 Stratotanker. The KC-135 is a four engined militarized jet, based on the Boeing 707. The aircraft first entered service in 1956, so constant maintenance on the aircraft is a priority.
The KC-135 is capable of carrying 200,000 pounds of fuel. Maintainers of the aircraft must check the aircraft’s fuel tanks for leaks by spraying water in the tank while another person, that is inside the tank itself, searches for leaks. On average, this process takes between 8 to 12 hours.
To combat this nuisance, an Air Force Staff Sergeant, Patrick Leach, has developed the pressurized leak detection cup.
“My innovation is a 3D printed cup which we can pressurize when pressed up against the surface of the aircraft,” said Leach. “This allows air to travel through any open channels on the surface and exit on the inside of the tank. We can then apply soapy water to the inside so we can see where the leak is coming through.”
The tool is expected to save at least $1.5 million in manpower costs at Leach’s air base alone. The tool has been certified by the Air Force for use on the KC-135 and will save labor hours and costs at other air bases operating the KC-135. Furthermore, the tool is modifiable and can be made to fit other aircraft, according to Popularmechanics.com.
The United States military as a whole has begun an effort to rely more and more on 3D printing technologies. From printing human cartilage and organs, to printing aircraft toilet seat covers, 3D printing saves time and money for the military as it helps shortens the military’s supply chain.