3D-printed training ‘bombs’ drastically cut costs for US Air Force in England
By CHRISTOPHER DENNIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 25, 2019
MILDENHALL, England — A 3D printer has slashed the time and cost required to get explosive training devices to the experts at RAF Lakenheath who need them as they prepare for deployments.
Staff Sgt. William Riddle has been using a 3D printer to produce dummy improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars that are used to train the explosive ordnance disposal airmen with the Air Force's 48th Fighter Wing at Lakenheath, cutting the cost and time of having the training devices shipped from the U.S.
“A decent year’s worth of ordnance training for a flight of 25 airmen costs about $60,000” when the dummy weapons are made and shipped from the U.S., Riddle said.
But using a 3D printer, the cost of producing the “weapons” falls by 96%, the 48th Fighter Wing said in a statement.
Printing the training aids at Lakenheath also saves time, said wing spokeswoman Capt. Miranda Simmons.
“Using traditional purchasing methods, it takes approximately 30 days for procurement, but with this innovative process, it now takes between 24 and 48 hours,” Simmons said in an email.
The new system also promotes safety by cutting down “the time it takes for our EOD technicians in a deployed location to work on a possibly live munition,” Riddle said. “This … means less time being deployed, resulting in less time in danger. They can do their job and come back home safely.”
The printing system is easy to learn, too, said Riddle. “I can take anyone who hasn’t done any 3D printing and give them a five-minute tutorial and have them printing with ease,” he said.
Riddle is set to brief the Innovation and Transformation Board at U.S. Air Forces in Europe — Air Forces Africa on his idea, for which he recently received an award from the 48th Continuous Process Improvement Office.
If the board approves the idea, it could be offered to EOD units across the theater, said USAFE spokesman Capt. Christopher Bowyer-Meeder.