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28th Maintenance Group’s Additive Manufacturing Flight accelerates mission readiness with Mobile Cold Spray System

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Dylan Maher
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

The 28th Maintenance Group’s Additive Manufacturing Flight became the first field-level unit to utilize the new Mobile Cold Spray System at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, March 27, 2024.

This system is designed to enhance and streamline preventative maintenance of Department of Defense aircraft components.

In partnership with VRC Metal Systems, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and Advance Manufacturing Program Office from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, the 28th MXG’s Additive Manufacturing Flight celebrated the culmination making additive manufacturing “on-the-go” with the unveiling of the Mobile Cold Spray System (MCSS).

“With mobile cold spray, we can take this technology to the warfighter,” said Dr. Brian James, AMF director and chief. “We’re very excited and honored to work with VRC Metals Systems and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, to make Ellsworth the first to implement the mobile cold spray system for our airmen.”

The MCSS is built from a convex box, equipped with various workstations necessary to conduct cold spray techniques and other material testing procedures, remote from a conventional rooted laboratory. Due to its compact design and outfitted dimensions when resting on its trailer platform, the MCSS meets Continental United States (CONUS) roadway requirements as well as cargo plane transportation requirements.

“The additive manufacturing flight continuously infuses new technologies into the maintenance and processes utilized throughout the 28th Maintenance Group,” said James. “Cold spray technology allows us to take unrepairable, unsustainable components and bring them back to service.”

According to Dr. Grant Crawford, Arbegast Materials Processing & Joining Laboratory director from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, cold spray is a technology that uses a heated gas, typically nitrogen or helium, and metal powder, both of which combine, to be sprayed through a pressurized, supersonic nozzle.

During cold spray application, the powders can reach velocities between 400 to 1,200 meters per second before contacting the specimen being treated, creating a metallurgical phenomenon called severe plastic deformation. This result gives the treated specimen a dense coating that exhibits low porosity levels and exceptional mechanical and corrosion properties.

“Most metallic materials and structural alloys used today experience heat treatment to attain the properties and structure that they are needed to perform in service.” said Crawford. “Conventional weld repairs or thermal spray repairs often have a significant thermal effect on the metallic specimen, which has the potential to degrade the properties.”

AMF currently conducts cold spray operations to support preventative maintenance on B-1 aircraft, however transporting cold spray equipment from their laboratory to the flightline when necessary, is not a simple feat.

“Cold spray involves hoses, nozzles, and gas, which can take a significant amount of time to assemble” said Staff Sergeant Chynna Patterson, 28th MXG additive manufacturing lead technician. “Having the mobilized cold spray system accessible means that we can reduce equipment setup time when we need to perform on-site maintenance of the parked aircraft.”

With the MCSS being designed, fabricated, and implemented at Ellsworth Air Force Base, the number of mission capable aircraft will increase.

“We’re all focused on great power competition, maintaining training readiness and the ability to win a conflict if deterrence fails,” said Ret. Brig. Gen. Gentry Boswell, vice president and business development of defense industry at VRC Metal Systems. “The mobile cold spray system exemplifies the effort in identifying the warfighters need and providing them the tools and different elements that create success.”

*Appearance of, or reference to, any commercial products or services does not constitute DoD or United States Air Force endorsement of those products or services.