Training those who will work with or maintain complex customized equipment (think military aircraft or large construction equipment) often means turning them loose on the real thing. But when the only purpose is to give the trainees a good sense of a components location, look and feel, why tie up an expensive, in-demand fighter jet or power module in the classroom?
The maintenance training squadron 982 MXS at Sheppard Air Force Base (SAFB) in Wichita Falls, Texas, has a different approach. Using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), the team replaces many expensive components of its aircraft with 3D-printed surrogates that look almost identical to the machined device, freeing production parts for use in the field. If they have a component that needs to be the same weight as an aluminum component, the solution is simple. Place a large metal piece inside the FDM part to get a weight similar to what the maintenance technician will experience in the field.
SAFB has seen incredible returns with this mentality and has also adopted FDM for other great ideas. The program is expected to yield more than $1 million a year in savings, according to a Stratasys case study. (http://www.stratasys.com/Resources/Case-Studies/Military-FDM-Technology-Case-Studies/Sheppard-Air-Force-base.aspx)
If there is a very small and intricate component that is difficult to explain, they can take the model and enlarge it several times. Then they can build the entire thing with different colors to demonstrate the different components, which also helps a trainer explain how to fix the part to a large audience at one time. Check out this video:
There must be about a thousand situations where a scaled-up instructional model would be useful -- science education and surgery planning come to mind. 3D printing allows you to create cross-sections and slice and dice your model in infinite ways for visibility that would never be possible with the real thing. Here’s a scenario where FDM models aren’t just less costly; they open up new ways of learning.