WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — A former grocery store in Middle Georgia is now serving high-tech aircraft manufacturing for the military.
The inside of the brick building — a former Publix store in Warner Robins — is full of gleaming new futuristic machinery.
The Air Force Advanced Technology and Training Center is reminiscent of the lab James Bond walks through to pick up his latest spy gadgets, The Telegraph reported .
The facility is a satellite operation of Robins Air Force Base. It officially opened Oct. 24, the Macon newspaper reported.
The center now employs about 30 people and may eventually employ about 100. The lab is the second like it in the Air Force. The first is connected with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
The Georgia facility involves 3-D printing, also called additive manufacturing, as a key to keeping the aging fleet flying. Previously 3-D printing had been thought of primarily as something to make prototypes, but now the Air Force is looking at using it to routinely make parts to be used in planes, the newspaper reported.
The traditional method of fabricating a part from scratch involved essentially carving it out of a piece of metal, or subtractive manufacturing, Maj. Ben Steffens said. That required special tooling to make the specific part, so the setup alone could be time-consuming and expensive.
In additive manufacturing, a machine measures the part, creates a digital model, then an additive manufacturing machine slowly builds it layer by layer, the Macon newspaper reported. It's much cheaper and faster than the traditional method, said Steffens, who works in the Air Force Corrosion Prevention and Control Office at Robins Air Force Base and is now involved in getting the Advanced Technology and Training Center in full operation.
The new center is crucial to keeping old aircraft flying when parts for it are no longer available, Steffens said.
"Much of the work that has been done on the base has been done in the same method for years and years," he said. "This equipment, this technology, this material that we are dealing with here is cutting edge and will bring us to the next level as far as keeping our schedule down, keeping our cost low."