Air Force partnership paves way for future civil engineer technology

  • Published
  • By Mekka Parish
  • AFCEC Public Affairs
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing as it's more commonly known, could shape the future of civil engineering.

Dr. Joseph Wander, research chemist at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, is partnering with the Air Force Institute of Technology and U.S. Air Force Academy to show that AM is a viable technology capable of producing civil engineering tools, jigs and training aids. 

"This is a really good example of using student ingenuity," Wander said.   "For nearly two years, the partnerships' work has been an example of AFCEC engineers providing ideas for projects that a student at the USAFA or AFIT can execute in an undergraduate or master's program.  Thus far this partnership has resulted in nearly 40 AM prototypes that address fixes for practical targets.  One success in the field is a platform to attach four hazardous materials/biological sensors to an explosive ordnance disposal robot."

The 88th Air Base Wing EOD Flight at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, is currently evaluating one of the recent AM project prototype hook-and-line style attachments.  These attachments provide capabilities for an EOD operator to move, attach, anchor, reach, remotely manipulate and access various items deemed potentially hazardous. 
"The potential benefits for AM hook-and-line attachments are the light weight, greater durability and on-site replacement for expendable items," said Senior Master Sgt. Vandiver Hood, superintendent of Air Force Civil Engineer Center's EOD Joint Service Acquisition Sustainment and Technology Division.

In addition to discovering solutions to current challenges, Hood believes these partnerships can have a far reaching impact on the entire EOD career field.

"These are Air Force civil engineer officers," Hood said. "They are our future leaders. Projects such as AM allow them to better understand the Air Force EOD program and become change agents for shaping future CE requirements."

The prototypes and files created during these partnerships aren't currently fielded Air Force-wide as analysis and application of the technology continues.

Wander, along with other members of the AFCEC team, are reaching out to the CE career field to submit new topics for the next generation of students to consider. 

It's AFCEC's view that supporting these academic programs and partnerships will ultimately provide its engineers better ways to do their jobs by focusing student research efforts on actual needs identified at AFCEC and in the field, Wander said. 

"If we feed real targets to students, they will both take care of us and launch productive careers," he said.