The U.S. Air Force will save millions of dollars by a new tool developed by an Air Force noncommissioned officer that allows maintainers to more efficiently look for fuel leaks. The tool costs just $15 but will save the military branch at least $1.5 million a year.
Staff Sgt. Patrick Leach, 100th MXS aircraft fuels systems craftsman, created the Pressurized Leak Detection Cup with the help of the aircraft structural maintenance flight.
“My innovation is a 3D printed cup which we can pressurize when pressed up against the surface of the aircraft,” Leach said. “This allows air to travel through any open channels on the surface and exit on the inside of the tank. We can then apply soapy water to the inside so we can see where the leak is coming through.”
The innovation is being used on the KC-135 Stratotanker, and Leach is in the process of getting it approved for other aircraft.
“It is issuable and certified for use on the KC-135,” Leach said. “We’re also working on pushing it out for other aircraft and getting the technical orders changed to actually implement it Air Force-wide.”
The cup is manufactured using 3D printers, which makes it inexpensive to produce.
“It costs under $15 in materials to produce and will save approximately $1.5 million per year at RAF Mildenhall. It has a big bang for its buck,” said Mia Tobitt, 100th MXS self-assessment program and continuous process improvement manager. “Being 3D printed allows us the option to produce different forms of the cup so that it can be used for multiple applications.”
The cup reduces the time needed to detect leaks by 75%, improving the wing’s ability to more quickly deliver mission-ready aircraft capable of providing aerial refueling.
“It decreases downtime for leak repair and frees maintenance personnel to accomplish other tasks,” Leach said.
In addition to impacting the aircraft fuel systems Airmen, Leach’s innovation also has the potential to affect other career fields.
“It was primarily designed for fuel system repair but could be useful for any career field that deals with liquid containers such as vehicle maintenance or civil engineering,” Leach said.
Leach believes workplace innovation can be replicated by other Airmen. He recommends individuals look for opportunities to innovate in the areas of their job they find most frustrating.
“There is always a better way to do something,” Leach said. “If you don’t think what you’re doing is effective, work on it and make your life easier.”