JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (AFNS) --
Tech. Sgt. Ana Gomez-Martinez, 316th Wing Dental Squadron, oral prophylaxis assistant, removed the broken attachment from the X-ray machine and replaced it with the new 3D part from the SparkX Cell.
Personnel at Joint Base Andrews use creative ways to enhance installation readiness and resilience while accomplishing the mission. SparkX Cell offers its Innovation and Idea Center as a space for Airmen to envision cutting-edge solutions for the Air Force’s problems. The 316th DS is the latest beneficiary of the innovation that comes from SparkX Cell.
“Everything we do is a new, carved path,” said Master Sgt. Earl Bagwell, 316th Wing SparkX Cell superintendent. “We’re trying to innovate out of the drive for change and not out of necessity.”
The program developed a new dental 3D printed model to replace a defective X-ray machine attachment on base in mid-January.
“The attachments were starting to break down due to continual everyday use,” Gomez-Martinez said. “We are proud to serve hundreds of patients a day from all across the National Capital Region. In order to meet our patients’ dental needs, diagnostic images are required.”
Gomez-Martinez said the process of acquiring a new attachment from SparkX Cell was straightforward and painless.
Initially, the project began when the 316th DS noticed the broken equipment had the potential to cause a mission stoppage for dental implants and oral surgery cases at the clinic. The attachment could not support the weight of the patient’s head, proving difficult to obtain a clean scan. In hopes of fixing the problem, the squadron ordered a replacement part but was still awaiting it more than two months after the order.
Gomez-Martinez visited the Innovation and Idea Center to learn more about their services. Then, the SparkX Cell team showed her the 3D printing machine used to create parts of machinery for other squadrons. Once they demonstrated their capabilities, Gomez-Martinez thought to ask if they could create a dental replacement part.
“They said not only is it possible, but they could give me a finished product in less than four days,” Gomez-Martinez said. “The product they delivered fit perfectly and was of better quality and strength than the original.”
This new attachment provided a sturdier structure composed of resin. The resin fully supported the weight of the patient’s head, ensuring safe and accurate treatment.
According to Gomez-Martinez, SparkX Cell can play a broader role in the dental field. She said, “That [model] template can be saved and emailed to Air Force dental clinics everywhere that are having a similar issue as a temporary solution. This template can … prevent work stoppages all across the dental corps.”
Lt. Col. Collin Holman, 316th Wing DS Advanced Education General Dentistry Program director, added that he thinks advanced technology will be more prominent in the dental field in the near future.
“We use [the dental replacement] daily for multiple specialty department cases,” Holman said. “In the next decade, I believe we will see a dramatic increase with printed solutions in digital dentistry.”
According to Bagwell, the process to manufacture the 3D model was quick and simple. The SparkX Cell team measured the dimensions of the current X-ray machine, then modeled a prototype that same evening, tested another printed model and redesigned the model with resin, all in the span of three days.
“We saw that there was a space to redesign and make it stronger based on our assumptions of why the equipment broke,” Bagwell said.
SparkX Cell’s mission is to bring tomorrow’s tools to the warfighter today. They aim to fully embody Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.'s directive to Airmen to “accelerate change or lose” by providing Airmen the resources to brainstorm creative ideas that could benefit the Air Force.
Bagwell added that Airmen are using SparkX Cell to create solutions for the Air Force and the public. The team’s ideas and solutions have already benefited JBA with an array of more than 200 projects including COVID-19 face-fitting prototyped masks, website development and surgical retractor tools. In addition to their 3D printers and scanners, the center also features SMART Boards, and virtual reality headsets. The SMART Boards can connect with mobile devices to make group collaboration more efficient.