ITAMCO wins contract with U.S. Air Force to develop 3D-printed runway mat

May 20, 2019 - 10:30am

Article from ITAMCO

ITAMCO (Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies) is part of a team developing a new runway mat for the U.S. Air Force. Runway mats are a critical component of Expeditionary Airfields (EAFs). EAFs are portable airfields that can be constructed, used, broken down after the completion of a mission, and moved to another site for re-use. These portable airfield mats must be easy to install and store, yet capable of withstanding the stresses of repeated takeoffs and landings of aircraft and the impact from arresting hooks. The portable runway surface most used today is made with an aluminum plank matting called AM-2. AM-2 matting has served the U.S. military well since the Vietnam War, but the materials and technology in the ITAMCO-led research project will offer many benefits over AM-2 matting.

Marines from Marine Corps Air Station, Expeditionary Airfields, Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 put down AM-2 matting on the Delta taxiway at Quantico’s Marine Corps Air Facility. ITAMCO will be replacing the labor-intensive AM-2 matting with a revolutionary product. Photo by John Holli

Project Objective
The objective of the research is to develop a robust sheet or roll technology that serves as an alternative to the Vietnam War-era AM-2 mat for temporary or expeditionary flight operations. Scott Hartford, Project Manager at ITAMCO is working on the project with Professor Pablo Zavattieri in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering at Purdue University. The proposed technology solution is comprised of an upper surface that mates with a lower surface and contains Phase Transforming Cellular Matrix (PXCM) geometry to mitigate anticipated loading and shear stresses.

What is PXCM? In the simplest terms, products made with PXCM geometry have the ability to change from one stable configuration to another stable configuration and back again. According to an article by Nadia Aljabi in the Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research, the novelty and benefits of PXCM are that they can absorb important amounts of energy and yet be reusable since the phase transformation is entirely reversible without inducing permanent deformation into the base material. This means the new runway mat can “heal” itself, resulting in a much longer lifespan than a runway made with AM-2 matting.

Additional benefits of the new runway material include:
•    The PXCM solution is targeted to weigh 3.5 lb. per sq. ft. or less. It can be laid by hand over a level surface of the appropriate density.
•    Debris on the runway will not hamper the runway’s performance.
•    It will support flight operations of 5,000 landing and takeoff cycles over 60 days.

The 3D Printing of the Runway Materials
The construction of the proposed runway mat is as innovative as its use of PXCM geometry—the prototypes of the mat will be made on ITAMCO’s EOS M290 additive manufacturing printer. The 3D printing method will be a collaboration between an innovative metal powder called StainlessSteel 316L VPro and the unique additive manufacturing capabilities of the EOS M290 printer. This union between product and printer will reduce production time by 70 percent and cost by up to 50 percent.

“EOS StainlessSteel 316L VPro is a highly productive material that was born from our collaborate development effort with GKN. Applications using 316L VPro, combined with highly proven EOS metal 3D printing technologies, result in accelerated production with lower production costs,” said Patrick Boyd, marketing director, EOS North America. “We’re excited that ITAMCO has partnered with EOS in ITAMCO’s endeavors to create forward-thinking solutions. They are not afraid to engineer then employ extraordinary solutions where no solution previously existed.”

Pushing boundaries with innovative materials and state-of-the-art printers does not guarantee build success; however, so the ITAMCO team is using Sunata from Atlas 3D to optimally orient and support the PXCM geometry. "The additive markets continue to evolve with new materials and unique geometries like PXCM on a near daily basis," said Chad Barden, CEO of Atlas 3D. "If not managed properly, these new variables can lead to scrap, rework, and loss of time to market. Sunata will ensure build success and is an integral part of this project.”

Related Glossary Terms

  • lapping compound( powder)

    lapping compound( powder)

    Light, abrasive material used for finishing a surface.

  • phase transformation

    phase transformation

    Heat generated by machining action that causes changes in the workpiece’s surface layers. This can result in softer- or harder-than-desired workpiece surfaces, as well as undesirable changes in cutting tools.


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