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3D Printing saves RAF Mildenhall time and money

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Christine Groening

Airmen from the 100th Maintenance Squadron are saving time and money for the 100th Air Refueling Wing with a new piece of high-tech equipment.

The squadron purchased a 3D printer to print pieces or parts that may need to be purchased with a whole unit of equipment.


The printer can create objects from a digital file and prints with a plastic called ULTEM.


“ULTEM can be used on the aircraft,” said Senior Airman Nick Dickens, 100th Maintenance Squadron aircraft metals technology welder machinist. “It’s the only plastic that is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for 3D printing. We’ll make other things like support equipment and we’ll create protective caps, wall fixtures and jigs -- it really varies.”               


The machine can print anything up to 14 inches in length, 14 inches wide and 16 inches tall and as thin as 10 thousandths of an inch. If an object requires complex angles that are too difficult to machine, the printer would be capable of doing it.


The ULTEM turns into a gooey substance at a high temperature, and prints in beads, where it lays down a tool path and builds from bottom up in layers.


With everything the printer is able to do, the time and cost saved outweigh the purchase price.


The Airmen are still finding a way to incorporate the printer in daily problem solving.


“We’ve been driving Engineering Technical Assistance Requests. We’re working on obtaining authorization to substitute phenolic parts (hazardous to machine) with ULTEM,” said Staff Sgt. Montana Engelking, 100th MXS aircraft metals technology welder machinist. “Furthermore, 3D printing capabilities has allowed us to manufacture parts for Aerospace Ground Equipment that fall through the supply system. For instance, tow swivel legs require grease caps. The grease caps are not individually orderable through supply, the whole assembly is orderable. It is more cost efficient for us to print out new grease caps.”


“It’s about saving time,” Dickens said. “The 3D printer can get things done in a day. When something from supply could takes weeks, this is an answer to that problem.” 


The 100th MXS team ensures planes are in the air, whether they directly work with the aircraft. They ensure Team Mildenhall are providing a ready force and strategic forward base, projecting airpower through unrivaled air refueling across Europe and Africa.