Technicians cut metal waste Published June 21, 2006 By Staff Sgt. Francesca Popp 3rd Wing Public Affairs ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFPN) -- Airmen in the 3rd Equipment Maintenance Squadron's metals technology shop are maximizing value while minimizing waste by making what customers need from scratch. On a daily basis, they can produce two-dimensional "parts" for just about any aircraft here."With our computer design software, we can design, manufacture and test metal components in a virtual environment before we even make the first cut on the machine," said Tech. Sgt. Brett Odom, 3rd EMS. "Once we have the design, we can go to work on the metal. Our abrasive water-jet cutter can slice through six inches of steel like a hot knife through butter."The machine this 21-person shop uses to make parts combines high-pressure water mixed with sand-like material and then forces it through a hole forty-thousandths of an inch wide, creating a force capable of cutting any material up to six inches thick.This $176,000 machine saved the Air Force more than $346,000 when it manufactured one of its first items, an F-15 Eagle gun ballast. The ballast is used to replace the weight of the 20 mm cannon that is removed when the aircraft is flown to depot maintenance facilities.This machine is important because "it allows aircraft parts to be mass-produced at a very low cost compared to conventional fabrication," said Senior Master Sgt. Toxie Robbins, the 3rd EMS fabrication flight superintendent. "It has reduced turnaround time on certain parts by as much as 90 percent."Since the shop began using the cutting machine in 2003, Sergeant Robbins said there has been no environmental impact, because there isn't any material waste or conventional waste streams such as coolants or oils.Sergeant Robbins said the cutter is the technician's machine of choice regardless of task size."One or 100 parts, this machine saves time, tooling, employee hours (and more) through user-friendly interface and zero waste," he said.Additionally, technicians said they look forward to making any part, because they have so many other tools at their disposal. They use welding equipment, a computer-controlled milling machine, plasma cutters, saws, grinders and more."With our computer-aided equipment, we are able to mass produce duplicate parts to within one ten-thousandth of an inch, every single time," Sergeant Odom said.It is the precision of their tools and the creativity in their approach to problems that have led this team to creating innovative products."The 3rd Wing now can accomplish organically what previously has been outsourced," Sergeant Robbins said.Editor's note: Tech. Sgt. Mike Edwards, 3rd Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this story.