ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- For Marine Corps aviators, hydraulics are critical part of performing all the heavy lifting required during aircraft operations.
Marine Cpl. Habtamu Sharew and Lance Cpl. Juan Herreragonzalez know that better than anyone. The two are hydraulic mechanics from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 29 in Jacksonville, North Carolina. They work specifically on the hydraulics systems.
Not long ago, they entered their idea for streamlining hydraulic line maintenance into the 2016 Marine Corps Logistic Innovation Challenge. Out of more than 300 entries, theirs was chosen as one of 18 to move to the next step. That brought them to an Army research facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"All the birds rely on heavy hydraulic systems for landing gear, for flaps, you name it," Herreragonzalez said. "This is what we've been dealing with, and we came up with a pretty good prototype."
The Corps partnered with various Department of Defense laboratories, such as the Army Research Laboratory and its sister organizations, the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center and the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, to leverage 3-D printing and additive manufacturing capabilities.
Army engineers worked closely with the Marines for a week to devise a 3-D printed flexible tube that can be shaped on site and then brought back to the shop, where a metal tube can be bent in the same exact shape, replicating the tube being replaced.
Lance Hall, AMRDEC mechanical engineer, said the project was a rare opportunity to work with "boots on the ground."
"We don't often get to do that. We're stuck in our labs," he said. "We're doing our science projects. So when we're able to get input and say 'Hey we need something.' That's a little extra exuberance when we do our job."
"It's like these guys need it," he added. "Let's go out there and make it happen for them."
Sharew's weeklong experience working alongside Army researchers gave him some valuable insight about the future of 3-D printing. He predicts DOD will soon be relying on additive manufacturing to manufacture parts as needed.
"I'm pretty sure we're going to get there because from what I've seen the job that takes us a while with 3-D printing it was done just like that and it's really amazing," he said. "I'm pretty sure that's going to be the future for DOD in general."
Bradley Ruprecht, ECBC engineering technician and model maker, agreed.
"The big pie in the sky future idea is to have additive manufacturing in the field to help reduce supply chain costs, but also [reduce] the time to get things," he said. "You can just build it at your forward operating base."
The purpose of the Marine Corps Logistics Innovation Challenge is to inspire solutions and then mature those ideas into a fielded capability.
"First of all, there's no bad idea out there. It's really up to that Marine to take the initiative and take it to the next step," Sharew said. "With us, we had the idea for a long time, but when the Marine Corps came out with the Innovation Challenge, that was our opportunity, and it paid off."
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, currently celebrating 25 years of excellence in Army science and technology, is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.