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3-D printing solves maintenance issue

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tambri Cason
  • 8th Air Force & J-GSOC Public Affairs

The 595th Strategic Communications Squadron, at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, provides highly skilled Airmen, enabling global strike by providing real-time and secure nuclear-survivable mission warning and command, control and communication (C3) capabilities.

The Airmen in this squadron operate and maintain the Strategic Automated Command Control System (SACCS), providing rapid re-targeting of ICBMs, Force Distribution and Emergency Action Messaging capabilities, and operate sole depot repair authority supporting 252 globe sites. Additionally, the two 24/7 operation centers operated and maintained by the squadron process more than 84 million U.S. Strategic Command messages a year.

In other words, several Air Force career fields come together to provide vital communication and technological support across the world.

As with many endeavors involving technology, eventually parts of the machines need replacing.

“The mission here is very unique,” said Airman 1st Class Saowalak Wester, a NC3 network technician within the 595th Command and Control Group.  “We are working with a machine that is 70 years old providing real-time communication support 24/7.”

When their supplier discontinued manufacturing of a red fault indicator lens cap to cover the lights on the Strategic Automated Command and Control (SACCS) systems, the 595th SCS Centralized Repair Facility (CRF) purchased a 3-D printer with innovation funds to manufacture a replacement.

“This strategy is saving the Department of Defense thousands of dollars each time the part fails,” said Col. Brian Golden, National Airborne Operations Center and 595th Command and Control Group commander.

The innovative solution was approved by Air Force Global Strike Command, and they are working to get a stock number assigned for the lens cap and enter it into the supply system. This will eventually allow other units to request the lens caps directly from the CRF team.

After the first cap was produced, the squadron recovered the cost of the printer and scanner and saved $4,475, said Golden. Previously, the only way to repair the fault inidcator on a SACCS system blower was to replace the entire component at a cost of $7,187.  The 3-D printer allows the unit to replace the fault indicator and fully repare a SACCS system blower for mere cents while saving the Air Force thousands of dollars in repair and supply chain costs.

Wester described a learning curve that came with the new design program for the 3-D printer. It is a new program that takes time and trial and error to get the desired product. However, she explained, that after the design and dimensions are configured and saved the process to create the lens caps is quite simple and quick.

“The 3-D printer is just another examples of how the dedicated and innovative Airmen of the 595 SCS continue to find way to sustain and operate legacy SACCS until the system can be modernized under the phased approach of the SACCS-Replacement program,” said Golden. “We are going to have come to the realization soon that this type of replacement process is paramount to keep legacy NC3 systems in the game for years to come.”  

The unit plans to utilize the 3-D printer to model and produce similar vintage components that are no longer in the Service’s supply system and expand its use to support the repair of other assets within the 595th Command and Control Group.