Technicians cut AFSO 21 in to processes

Tech. Sgt. Albern Warren checks on the progress of an abrasive water-jet cutter while cutting metal for an aircraft part on Friday, June 16. Sergeant Warren is assigned to the 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron metals technology shop at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alan Port)

Tech. Sgt. Albern Warren checks on the progress of an abrasive water-jet cutter while cutting metal for an aircraft part on Friday, June 16. Sergeant Warren is assigned to the 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron metals technology shop at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alan Port)

An abrasive water-jet cutter puts the final cuts on a special tool that is being created by Airmen assigned to the 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron metals technology shop at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, on Friday, June 16. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alan Port)

An abrasive water-jet cutter puts the final cuts on a special tool that is being created by Airmen assigned to the 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron metals technology shop at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, on Friday, June 16. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alan Port)

A technician from the 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron metals technology shop finishes producing a special tool using an abrasive water-jet cutter on Friday, June 16. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alan Port)

A technician from the 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron metals technology shop finishes producing a special tool using an abrasive water-jet cutter on Friday, June 16. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alan Port)

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Imagine for a moment you are the proud owner of a very rare model car. It is luxurious, very sporty, very expensive, and only a handful exist in the entire world. 

Now imagine you need to make repairs or get a part to fix it. It could be very difficult to find and costly to buy parts. What do you do? 

The 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron’s Metals Technology Shop credits the tenets of Air Force Smart Operations 21 to maximize value and minimize waste. Its technicians make what customers need from scratch. They do this on a daily basis, except rather than working on rare cars, they can produce two-dimensional parts for just about any aircraft here. 

“With our computer design software, we can design, manufacture and test metal components in a virtual environment before we even make the first cut on the machine,” said Tech. Sgt. Brett Odom, 3rd EMS. “Once we have the design, we can go to work on the metal. Our abrasive water-jet cutter can slice through six inches of steel like a hot knife through butter.” 

The machine this 21-person shop uses to make parts is the OMAX 55100 Jetmachining Center. It combines high-pressure water mixed with sand-like material, and then forces it through a hole 40 thousandths of an inch wide, creating a force capable of cutting any material up to six inches thick. 

This $176,000 machine saved the Air Force more than $346,000 when it manufactured one of its first items -- an F-15 gun ballast. The ballast is used to replace the weight of the 20mm cannon used when the aircraft is flown to depot maintenance facilities. 

Senior Master Sgt. Toxie Robbins, 3rd EMS Fabrication Flight superintendent, said this machine is important because “it allows aircraft parts to be massed produced at a very low cost compared to conventional fabrication. It has reduced turn-around time on certain parts by as much as 90 percent.” 

Since the shop began using the Jetmachining Center in 2003, Sergeant Robbins said there has been no environmental impact, because there isn’t any material waste or conventional waste streams such as coolants or oils. 

Sergeant Robbins said the Jetmachining Center is the technician’s machine of choice regardless of task size. 

“One, or 100 parts, this machine saves time, tooling, employee hours (and more) through user-friendly interface and zero waste,” he said. 

Additionally, technicians said they look forward to making any part, because they have so many other tools at their disposal. They use welding equipment, a computer-controlled milling machine, plasma cutters, saws, grinders and more.
“With our computer-aided equipment, we are able to mass produce duplicate parts to within one ten-thousandth of an inch, every single time,” Sergeant Odom said.
It is the precision of their tools and the creativity in their approach to problems that has led this team to creating innovative products. 

“The 3rd Wing can now accomplish organically what has been previously outsourced,” Sergeant Robbins said in regard to saving the Air Force time and money.
To learn more about Air Force Smart Operations 21, visit www.afso21.hq.af.mil.
(Editor’s note: Tech. Sgt. Mike Edwards, 3rd Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this story.)