INNOVATION TITANS: 728th AMS NCO Provides 3-D Printed Solutions

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Siuta Ika
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Innovation has long been the cornerstone of the Air Force’s identity as a military service. Being at the forefront of technological advances has fostered an enduring culture of creativity and forward-thinking within the ranks.

One Incirlik Airman has embraced the challenge of pushing the boundaries of what’s possible by living on the crossroads of technology and imagination, solving a common problem in his unit with an innovative solution.

Staff Sgt. Adam Knapp, a C-5 Galaxy crew chief assigned to the 728th Air Mobility Squadron, noticed that latches on the squadron’s toolboxes were breaking and the replacement parts for them – and in some instances replacement toolboxes – were taking up to two months to be ordered, shipped, and delivered.

Knapp knew this problem could be solved by utilizing equipment that the squadron already had on hand – a stereolithography (SLA) 3-D printer. So he created a 3-D model of the latch and then printed a prototype. It was a perfect fit.

“When I saw the latches, I knew we could 3-D print replacements pretty easily,” Knapp said.

Knapp’s early prototypes were resin-based, as it’s the material used in SLA printers. These printers beam UV light into a tank of liquid resin, triggering a reaction that solidifies the resin into a hardened plastic-like material.

After a bit of trial and error, Knapp found that the filament-based fused-deposition modelling (FDM) 3-D printer created a better, stronger product than either the SLA-based prototype or the original manufactured latches.

The entire process for creating a replacement latch now takes less than two hours.

“The cost is super low as well,” Knapp said. “It costs $0.05 to make a 3-D printed latch, whereas we were paying about $450 for new toolboxes. So to date, we’ve made about 50 latches, saving the squadron more than $17,500.”

Knapp, who has been a 3-D printing enthusiast since he was in middle school 10 years ago, is also currently working on prototypes for universal aircraft marshalling flashlight wand-adaptors and tubeless handcart tire replacements. He also has his own ‘pet projects’ he’s working on.

“I’ve also made replacement parts for stuff around the house too,” Knapp said. “When I was in the dorms at Travis [Air Force Base, California] my toilet handle broke and my parents were visiting me and were going to be there in 20 minutes, so I even 3-D printed a replacement handle that’s probably still in use today!”

Going beyond household fixture replacements, Knapp sees 3-D printing as a perfect complement to usher in the era of Agile Combat Employment.

“Why deploy with a ton of equipment, tools and parts, a lot of which you won’t ever need but have to have on you ‘just in case’, when your team could 3-D print those ‘just in case’ items when they’re needed,” Knapp said. “We can save so much time and money; 3-D printing is the way of the future, but it’s also here now.”

Airmen like Knapp embody the spirit of innovation that defines the Air Force, said Nazan Ogru, 39th Air Base Wing innovation and process manager.

“I love that, in my job, I get to highlight and talk to people like Sergeant Knapp,” Ogru said. “He’s demonstrated the power of creativity and resourcefulness. His ability to leverage existing technology for practical solutions enhances efficiency and showcases the limitless potential within our ranks.”