The Air Force’s main F-35 operating base is experimenting with 3D printing as a way to drive down repair costs and increasing F-35 availability. The 388th Maintenance Group at Hill AFB, Utah, recently bought a 3D printer, and is testing ways to fix damaged parts such a wiring harnesses, grommets, fasteners, housing boxes, and cable splitters, according to a Hill release. “In the (Air Force Repair and Enhancement) program, we receive parts that have been damaged and fix them so that they can be returned to the supply chain more quickly,” said TSgt. Scott Mathews, assistant AFREP manager with the 388th Maintenance Group at Hill, in the release. “It’s much more cost effective for the Air Force than buying new parts.” The F-35 program has faced a parts shortfall, which has negatively impacted the jet’s mission capable rate. The Air Force was late in standing up its depots for the F-35, causing a slowdown in fixing jets and refurbishing parts, sometimes forcing the Air Force to go back to the manufacturer to make new parts, Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris, the deputy chief of staff for strategic plans, programs, and requirements, told lawmakers in March. The high sustainment costs for the jet is the biggest issue facing the program, potentially growing too expensive for the services to afford, program executive Vice Adm. Mat Winter said earlier this year. —Brian Everstine
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