Richmond, Virginia –
If Defense Logistics Agency employees think it’s challenging to supply ordinary aircraft parts, just add a cast or forged part to the mix.
A group of DLA Aviation employees recently learned firsthand how two companies use these ancient methods to create aircraft parts the agency’s customers need.
Casting is the process of pouring liquid metal into a mold, to take on the desired shape after it cools and becomes solid. Today, 3D printing of patterns and molds has revolutionized the casting process, where final machining and even dimensional inspections are based on 3D images.
Forging is the pressing or hammering a metal piece into a shape. Often, the piece is first heated till glowing and, once shaped, plunged in cold water to add strength and hardness, a process called quenching. Forgings, due the combination of strength, toughness, and durability, are used in critical applications such as landing gear, wing spars, bomb lugs, etc.
The DLA Aviation Forging and Casting Assistance Team looks for ways to save time and money on contracts by improving processes and solving procurement problems. The AFCAT educates employees on casting and forging processes by taking them to visit two commercial casting and forging companies that make parts for DLA.
The biannual seminars teach employees about the forging and casting processes and the tooling required to make those parts. Employees also learn how those processes and tooling affect acquisition costs and administrative and production lead times. Since beginning these seminars, the team has trained over 400 DLA Aviation employees.
DLA Aviation’s Jeannie Kirby and Kyle Hedrick manage the events, along with contracted engineers Walker George (forging) and Keith Sturgill (casting).
This past April 18-19, the team took 22 DLA Aviation employees to visit Lenape Forged Products in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and to the Buck Company foundry in Quarryville, Pennsylvania.
Employees learned the manufacturing and metalworking processes, and saw those metalworking processes firsthand.
Frank DiPofi, former AFCAT program manager, has worked for DLA Aviation since 2000 and has a background in environmental, industrial and petroleum engineering. He said AFCAT was formed in the early 2000s to mitigate the effects of dwindling suppliers because the once-robust domestic supply chains had disappeared, fragmented or moved overseas.
“It was also difficult to locate tooling, fix obsolete technical data and reduce lead times,” DiPofi said. “Decades-old technical data and production methods were geared toward the high-volume production of the past and not the low-volume sustainment orders needed to maintain America’s aging aircraft systems today.”
The AFCAT initiative is a cost-shared collaboration between industry partners, the federal government and academia. It focuses on acquisition supply chains, new technologies and technology transfer, DiPofi said.
“DLA Aviation’s AFCAT is a key aspect of the initiative focused on DLA’s ability to rapidly procure high-quality supply items that contain cast or forge components,” he explained.
Fifteen years later, the agency’s ongoing forging and casting initiative is yielding benefits through shared knowledge between industry, the military services and DLA Aviation.
Forging is an art and can be done through a hot or cold process, DiPofi noted.
“Forging imparts certain changes in the metal itself — changes that are critical in producing certain safety parts, like landing gear,” he said.
During the visit to the Lenape Forged Products, attendees received an overview of the open-die forging processes and machining capabilities, toured the facility and saw the powerful forging processes in action as the red-hot components were roughly pounded into shape.
During a previous site visit to Danko Arlington foundry in Baltimore, DLA Aviation employees saw how the company modernized through its partnership with the AFCAT initiative, converting their processes to use additive manufacturing and digital models to produce casting molds and patterns.
For the Buck foundry visit, the group toured the casting facility and metallurgical lab and saw the entire process, from pattern making and sand molding to casting, heat-treating, machining and final inspections, which verify each part’s dimensions by measuring between coordinates. Each participant created cope-and-drag sand molds and poured a small tin casting via the Buck Company’s foundry-in-a-box teaching system.
The aviation supply chain is always looking for procurement cost savings by promoting effective competition. In 2016, AFCAT found the most recent award for an aircraft armrest (normally a casting) used on the C-135 Stratolifter and KC-135 Stratotanker was sent to a shop that machined the item from bar-stock, a process typically more expensive than casting, because the shop could not find casting tooling.
DLA ASC employees then contacted a manufacturer who makes casting tooling through additive manufacturing, known as fused deposition 3D printing. In response to the next solicitation, the manufacturer bid $1,205 each for a quantity of seven, which was $185 lower than the next higher bid, resulting in an award and a total savings of $1,295.
DiPofi explained how additive manufacturing helps support both DoD’s mandate to get the most for the taxpayer dollar and DLA’s Time-to-Award initiative. To some degree, additive manufacturing has been around for decades. But it wasn’t until about five years ago that DLA Aviation started working with manufacturers to produce castings.
One such foundry had no previous contracts with DLA Aviation but was intrigued when AFCAT encouraged it to compete on DLA contracts. During meetings with this foundry, AFCAT and DLA discussed the problem of providing small orders of specialized castings quickly and inexpensively. To overcome the tooling challenges, the foundry decided to invest in additive manufacturing systems to quickly make the tooling needed to satisfy DLA’s needs more efficiently. This investment has enabled this company to participate in more than 300 competitive DLA solicitations in the past five years.
Many of the first parts provided to DLA Aviation via the additive manufacturing tooling process were for the Air Force’s T-38 trainer aircraft. This has helped DLA save or avoid spending more than $10 million of taxpayer funds.
The team has had many successes since its conception. Recently, AFCAT reviewed a government disapproval of a cast housing for the F-16 Fighting Falcon based on First Article Test results. This casting failed because the surface finish did not meet the criteria.
DLA determined this was caused by post-casting processes and worked with the foundry to change its process to correct the problem, which allowed the same part to be tested again. This time it passed, and the part was approved.
By working with the company, AFCAT helped four contracts for 133 parts avoid cancelation, saving the government about $165,000, according to Army Materiel Command.
Another success in early 2016 involved, “partnering with a forge shop to become a prime contractor on a DLA materiel contract. This initiative will assist in speeding up contract delivery time and save $4 million over the next five years,” DiPofi said.
The ACS team also includes the DLA Aviation B-52 weapon system program manager and Supplier Operations Commodities Directorate’s acquisition specialists.
In December 2015, the AFCAT helped with a B-52 part procurement when the landing gear drag link could not be organically manufactured. The demand was for 72 each per year, and there was no stock on hand. The contract was awarded to a forge company, and the finished drag link was approved with a total savings on the first buy of $950,506.
Meredith Manwaring, a DLA Aviation Supplier Operations Commodities Directorate purchasing agent, participated in the recent seminar and tours. She said that although she has awarded purchase requests with tooling contract line-item numbers, she never really understood what that looked like and what exactly went into the tooling for the item. She said she now has a better understanding on the cost, time and processes it takes to make it.
“I think it gives you a new perspective, and everyone can benefit from the seminar trip,” Manwaring said.