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AFRL Small Business Office partners with industry to save on aircraft costs

This machine was adapted as a cryogenic machining system and used in evaluation in the manufacturing of titanium.  (Courtesy photo)

This machine was adapted as a cryogenic machining system and used in evaluation in the manufacturing of titanium. (Courtesy photo)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Backed by an Air Force Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer award, New Hampshire-based Creare, LLC, made a significant leap in machining technology that could spur more widespread use of titanium in aircraft. 

While lighter and stronger than traditional aircraft materials, titanium parts are difficult to machine at high speeds so the cost is high with limited applications. Any improvement in the manufacturing of titanium parts could have a dramatic impact on affordability of aircraft, such as the F-35.

With a technology transfer plan in place and assistance from a commercialization agent, Creare, LLC, transitioned its system to a supplier of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and demonstrated the affordability benefits for a specific part. The broad application of the technology-known as cryogenic machining-applied to titanium parts across the F-35 supplier base, is expected to save the program more than $260 million.

"Creare has been a leader in cryogenic cooling in the commercial world for many years. Their expertise in successfully demonstrating this capability to an F-35 Tier 1 supplier is a game changer. The potential for savings, if adopted across the supplier base, is huge and the environmental benefits of eliminating lubricant with a traditional flood coolant approach is immediate," said Mark DiPadua, Research Engineer from the Electronics and Sensors Branch at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

For decades, the manufacturing industry has relied on flood cooling as part of its standard machining processes. That doesn't translate well to difficult-to-machine materials like titanium alloys. Creare's patented Cryogenic Machining System directs cooling where it is needed most in high-performance titanium machining, substantially reducing the temperature of the tool without unnecessarily cooling the part. The approach, which eliminates lubricant capture and recycling systems, provides dramatic improvements in processing speed to significantly lower processing costs. The Air Force Small Business Innovative Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Program allowed Creare to perform a direct cost and performance comparison between traditional and cryogenic machining for specific F-35 parts. This documentation of the newer technology's value established a business case that will enable its more widespread adoption across the supply chain.

The development of the Creare's Cryogenic Machining System started more than a decade ago. Since then, the company has become very active in supplying advanced manufacturing solutions to challenging problems by focusing on their implementation in real-world manufacturing environments.

The Air Force SBIR and STTR programs provide more than $300 million in funding for research and development activities by small businesses annually. With this budget, the Air Force funds research from the early stages of concept development until it transitions to military or commercial use.

For more information about these programs, please call the Air Force SBIR/STTR Program Office at 1-800-222-0336, email info@afsbirsttr.com, or visit their website at www.afsbirsttr.com.