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Additive Manufacturing of Masking to Support Turbine Engine Sustainment




TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Materials/Processes

The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with section 5.4.c.(8) of the solicitation and within the AF Component-specific instructions. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws. Please direct questions to the AF SBIR/STTR Contracting Officer, Ms. Gail Nyikon,


OBJECTIVE: Develop, demonstrate, and deliver a capability that includes necessary materials, machines, and processes to produce masking and tooling for thermal spray, shot peening, and other coating processes to support sustainment of aircraft turbine engines.


DESCRIPTION: Additive manufacturing and new rapid manufacturing methods may have the capability to transform the cost and the lead time required to produce and maintain many kinds of parts for the aerospace industry. Tooling, fixtures, shop aids, and prototypes are low-risk applications for additive manufacturing to assist the depot maintenance of aircraft. Other DoD facilities such as the NAVAIR’s Fleet Readiness Centers have utilized additive manufacturing to assist in the repair of aircraft to decrease cost and time associated with non-flying parts. Plasma spray, shot peening, flame spray, and other similar processes are typically used in the sustainment of aircraft engines by the 76th Propulsion Maintenance Group (PMXG) at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center. Masking is required to protect some surfaces of parts during these processes, requiring manually intensive mask taping or expensive, long lead custom masks made from RTV or similar materials that have a limited shelf life. Additive manufacturing has the potential to transform the cost and lead time to mask these parts, transforming the process that is required in preparing parts for the deposition or peening processes.

The desired outcome of this program is a delivered machine, material system, and process that can be used to cost and time effectively produce reusable masks for thermal spray. The materials used for the mask need to withstand the thermal environment that is expected during thermal spray processes. The masks must sufficiently protect the unsprayed area to result in a quality coating. The end state is to lower the time required to produce a mask, so a rough comparative analysis must be undertaken to compare traditional masking techniques to the proposed technique.

Potential solutions could be the direct manufacture of masks via a 3D printer or the use of a 3D printer to produce a mold for these masks. Close interaction with AFRL and PMXG is expected to ensure technical requirements are met. Commercialization potential for this process exists for all thermal spray masking applications. PMXG currently is acquiring a production scale FDM machine that is capable of producing parts over 1ft x 1ft x 1ft. It would be advantageous if the technical solution was compatible with the already existing equipment, however, it is not a requirement of this program. Other types of machines can be considered for use in the end technical solution.

Material requirements for produced masks include ability to conform to the part being sprayed (roots of blades, cases, knife edge seals, stators, etc.) within tolerance to create a clean masking line. Temperatures of the material are expected to see temperatures in excess of 400 degrees F and must be able to handle or resist the heat of the sprayed particles and flame. UV degradation of the materials must also be considered due to the UV emissions of the plasma spray.

Proposed projects should include research and development of processes to produce masks and demonstrations to assist in the sustainment of Air Force parts.

Proposals are limited to $900K.


PHASE I: Contractor will have piloted a capability to produce plasma spray masking directly via additive manufacturing. Demonstrated capability of masking material to withstand plasma spray environment.


FEASIBILITY DOCUMENTATION: Offerors interested in submitting a Direct to Phase II proposal in response to this topic must provide documentation to substantiate that the scientific and technical merit and feasibility described has been met and describes the potential commercial applications. The documentation provided must substantiate that the proposer has developed a preliminary understanding of additive manufacturing of masking to support turbine engine sustainment. Documentation must include proof of plasma spray masking production via additive manufacturing. Documentation should include all relevant information including, but not limited to: technical reports, test data, prototype designs/models, and performance goals/results. Read and follow all of Step 1 of the Air Force 15.3 Instructions. The Air Force will not evaluate the offeror’s related DP2 proposal where it determines that the offeror has failed to demonstrate the scientific and technical merit and feasibility of the Phase I project.


PHASE II: Develop, demonstrate, and deliver the machines, materials, and processes to Air Force Sustainment Center necessary to cost and time effectively produce reusable masks for plasma spray, flame spray, shot peening, and similar processes for turbine engine sustainment.


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Further develop system for commercialization of the various technologies developed in Phase II for government applications in sustainment of military aircraft engines, to include a broader array of masking types and support for other masking applications.


KEYWORDS: Additive Manufacturing, Sustainment, Reverse engineering, tooling production, fixture production, FDM, SLS, Thermal spray, ULTEM, RTV

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