Metrology and Additive Manufacturing Lab Ensures Quality

Manufacturing quality parts for the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex sustainment mission at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, can be challenging when a part exists only in a drawing. The Metrology and Additive Manufacturing Lab with the 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group has the solution for those hard to find parts.

CMM used to scan aircrafts parts at Robins Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Joseph Mather)

“Sometimes we get a pre-designed part that we will use 3D scanners, or the coordinate measuring machine on, to scan the part after it is manufactured. That’s one way we verify the part is milled correctly and is made to the design specifications,” said Rob O’Quinn, 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group lead mechanical engineer. “Other times we will get a 2D blueprint drawing and we will re-create a 3D Computer-Aided Design model, and that CAD model will be used to program the CMXG milling machines.”

The Metrology and Additive Manufacturing Lab technicians have several responsibilities.

“One of the functions of the technicians working in this lab is that they are also milling machine programmers,” said O’Quinn. “They write machine code, or G-Code if you will, for the milling machines in the CMXG area that produce’s metal parts.”

Articulating Arm with Integral Laser Scanner at Robins Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Joseph Mather)

According to O’Quinn, it can be difficult to create G-Code for milling machines without a part sample to go by or without an accurate drawing, but with their 3D printer, the lab can print a CAD model as a starting point.

“What we like to do is make a 3D print of the CAD model and do a fit test on the aircraft or the assembly that particular part will fasten to,” he said. “That way, we can ensure the CAD model we will be using to program the milling machine with will be accurate before we start that process.”

O’Quinn said the old way of milling a part for a fit test was time consuming and expensive.

“With 3D printing, it is so much faster and cheaper to create a plastic sample to do a fit test,” he said. “This saves the Air Force money and time in producing parts for aircraft.”

The Metrology and Additive Manufacturing Lab Technicians Have to be Versatile

“These guys have to wear a lot of hats,” O’Quinn said “Not only are they programmers, but they have to be capable of operating the equipment in the Metrology lab. They are operating the 3D printers and all the other pieces of equipment in this room.”

O’Quinn said he wants to expand into different types of additive manufacturing.

3D CAD model will be used to design a mold that will be 3D printed and then used by the plastic shop to re-create parts for the C-5 aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Joseph Mather)

“One project I am working on is a 3D metal printer,” he said. “The 3D metal printer we are looking at uses a process called Direct Metal Laser Melting. It would be like growing a metal part. Just like how plastic parts are created layer by layer until the product is finished, it would use a bed of fine metal powder and a powerful laser to grow the metal part layer by layer.”

O’Quinn said their focus for additive manufacturing would be non-critical parts at first.

“There are many metal parts the Air Force uses that somebody has to make and this is where additive manufacturing shines,” said O’Quinn. “A contractor is not going to spend the money to gear up a process to only create 10 pieces of a product because there is no money in it for them.”

O’Quinn said that is where the niche is for additive manufacturing.

“Additive manufacturing is best suited to produce small quantities,” he said. “We can produce a wide variety of components in small quantities to support the mission and save the Air Force money.”

The Metrology and Additive Manufacturing Lab, no role is too small or too big in keeping the sustainment mission going. “I have a very small role in this, but I know what I do is keeping my kids, family and my community safe,” said O’Quinn. “I am keeping the warfighter safe by providing equipment for them to use that will not fail when they use it.”

For more information: www.robins.af.mil


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