Team Players: AFSC-wide effort to create innovation center concept now in research phase

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
The concept of an innovation center across the Air Force Sustainment Center was the focus of discussions during a partnership symposium March 17 at the Museum of Aviation. 

It's still in the early stages of research and planning, but there's interest in collaboration between the government, industry and other organizations on how best to establish additive manufacturing opportunities at sites at each of AFSC's air logistics complexes. 

"We're seeking to create a collaborative environment to address next-generation advanced manufacturing needs of the Air Force Sustainment Center," said Wayne Ayer, AFSC Engineering and Technical Management technical director. "Additive manufacturing is considered a game-changer technology for the Department of Defense."

The idea is to create an environment where engineers from throughout AFSC and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center come together, along with industry, to develop unique techniques with additive manufacturing.

Then it would be implemented across the ALCs, according to Ayer.

"We're trying to bring the capability as close as possible to our engineering work forces to make the technology very accessible," he said. 

Examples of additive manufacturing - a process where parts are built by adding material in layers - include the use of    3-D printing, for example. 

As many aircraft in the fleet continue to fly for the next 30-plus years, and diminishing parts become more of a reality, this is where an innovation center's additive manufacturing capabilities can come into play.  

The timeframe to establish this could be several years away, depending on the contract approach. From developing a strategy and competing requirements, to acquiring proposals and awarding contracts - all of this is expected to result in a complex acquisition, said Ayer.

Many questions still remain unanswered, to include who and how innovation centers would be utilized, to how technology would be shared. This is where industry's perspective would be useful during the next several months as this fall AFSC will seek to develop its acquisition strategy. 

Its additional capabilities could include multiple types of printing, such as advanced polymer and high precision printers, and metals and composites manufacturing, depending on the mission set of each complex. 

At Robins, one focus could be on electronics additive manufacturing, with avionics repair a critical mission here. 

Looking to the future, with many aircraft flying since the 1970s and continuing to fly for the next several decades, one of the challenges is finding parts that are no longer manufactured. 

There's a high cost involved when it comes to acquiring aircraft parts from an original equipment manufacturer.  

"Additive manufacturing has an opportunity, where the technology has matured and certified, to print those parts and produce them quickly, efficiently and inexpensively to keep aircraft flying," said Col. Lee Olyniec, Engineering and Technical Management deputy director at Robins. "This is looking at the problems, not that we just have today with manufacturing parts, but the fact that we're keeping  aircraft much longer than we ever expected."