Metals technology: When a part is not available, they make it from scratch

  • Published
  • By Tyler Hemstreet
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
When troops, Humvees, helicopters and ammunition need to be airlifted, maintenance and aircrews don't have time to wait around for the delivery of a bracket that helps anchor a pallet to the floor of a C-17 Globemaster III. 

Instead, they look to the 62nd Maintenance Squadron's metals technology shop to manufacture the piece. Since the shop is the largest intermediate maintenance metals technology shop in the Air Force, it can handle just about anything thrown its way, said shop foreman Will Nelson, 62nd MXS. 

"Our No. 1 job is to make those airplanes fly," he said. "And that means getting the airplane off the ground as quickly as possible [if it needs a piece]. When airplanes miss their flying schedule, it cuts into a lot of things." 

Boeing keeps a certain supply of C-17 parts on the shelves at its warehouse, but once those parts run out, they usually don't make any more. So if a piece on the C-17 breaks or needs to be replaced the shop makes the part because receiving a part from Boeing may take several days, as the company might sub-contract the manufacturing job to another company. 

"Why wait for a normal supplier when we have the capability to make the part right here?" Mr. Nelson said. "We can usually make the part faster." 

Using the shop's computer numerically controlled lathes, mills and water jet, the shop's staff of civilians, Airmen and Air Reserve Technicians can make just about anything, Mr. Nelson said. 

The computer-aided machines enable the shop to make identical precision-cut pieces in a short amount of time, said shop chief Master. Sgt. Stevan Holcomb, 62nd MXS. 

"It saves us a lot of scrapwork," he said. 

Most of the pieces the shop manufactures are internal or structural pieces. Some require intricate design programming on the shop's computers in order to tell the machines how to cut out the piece. Designs for other parts are accessed through Boeing's part design database, Mr. Nelson said. 

In addition to making sure the C-17s are mission-ready, the shop does its best to support other shops on base. That can mean making special tools to finish a job or repairing a piece of support equipment, Mr. Nelson said. 

"We're always looking for efficient ways to help other shops," Sergeant Holcomb said. 

The shop can even accommodate big jobs from other intra-base organizations, such as the base fire department, Mr. Nelson said. 

The shop's responsibilities branch out from there. 

Last year the shop saved Fort Lewis nearly $1 million by repairing helicopter parts, he said. 

"We not only support the mission, but we try and help save other bases some headaches," Mr. Nelson said.