Manufacturing Excellence

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Cody Burt
  • 307th Bomb Wing

Have you ever experienced not being able to get something when you need it because the company is backed up or the part is not made anymore? Wouldn’t it be great if you could make it yourself? That is an everyday occurrence for U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Matthew Windmann, a metals technician for the 489th Maintenance Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.

Windmann spends his days manufacturing parts for the B-1 Lancer at Dyess Air Force Base. Typically, parts for aircraft are made by commercial companies contracted by the military. If a part breaks you could simply order another one. Unfortunately, in many cases these parts are on backorder, discontinued, or the company is no longer in business. This is where Windmann and the Metals Technology shop steps in.

Windmann has made numerous parts for the B-1 Lancer. His efforts can be found on everything from the aircraft's ladder to its fuselage. Many of these parts were essential to keeping the B1 airworthy.

“Each aircraft is unique in its own way,” said Windmann. “Minor adjustments for fitment are required a majority of the time to fit that specific aircraft.”

Not only is he essential to the B-1, but he has also manufactured parts for other airframes and equipment. Units from all over the United States have contacted him to manufacture parts when they are unable to get them elsewhere.

For instance, Windmann has manufactured parts for his assigned unit, the 307th Bomb Wing, for both the B-52 Stratofortress and B-1 Lancer. However, he has also integrated with active duty and other units for projects such as nose landing gear brackets and a down limit switch for active-duty C-130 Hercules aircraft at Dyess AFB and dampening brackets on the HH60G PAVE Hawk helicopters at Patrick AFB, FL.

Overall, Windmann has manufactured parts for four airframes across five Air Force bases.

However, his contribution to the mission doesn’t stop at the aircraft. Windmann has also received requests for machine parts from organizations such as outdoor recreation, Dyess firefighters, and even the civil engineering squadron, he said.

“Air ground equipment is a big customer for us,” said Winddmann. “We repair the equipment they used to fix the aircraft.”

The entire process from initial design to final manufacture of a part is kept in-house.

“The ability to manufacture these parts eliminates the need for contracts with outside agencies,” said Windmann. “The time saved in cutting out these contracts saves years at a time, per part.”

When a shop needs a replacement part, they will bring a drawing with specifications to Windmann to see if he can make it. If it is possible, Windmann will begin his process.

This process starts with Windmann taking the specifications of the part and creating a 3D model on the computer in Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. Once the part has been virtually created, he then transfers it to another software called Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM). This allows him to create tool paths for the machines to follow. Tool paths tell the machine what type of tool to use and how to use it. After tool paths are created, he can see a simulation of the machine working to ensure that nothing goes wrong during the manufacturing process.

Once he has set up the machining process in the CAM software, the software creates a code that he transfers to the machine. He then physically installs the raw material that will be cut and the tools that will be used to cut into the machine. Windmann will then go through a calibration process that tells the machine exactly where the material is located and exactly where the tool is in reference to the material. After setting up the machine he hits play and waits.

Windmann got his start at Barksdale Air Force Base as a traditional reservist learning fundamentals on manual machines, making parts. Once he moved to Dyess, he began learning Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machinery and has become the “go-to” Airmen for manufacturing parts.

Some may think that sounds too technical to get into, but Windmann started from scratch just like the parts he makes.

“I didn’t know anything about metal or metals technology. I actually got into this job because of my dad,” said Windmann.

Before he joined the Air Force, his father, who is also in the Air Force, introduced Windmann to a friend in metals technology. He said, “If you join, this is all the cool stuff you’ll be doing,” and gave him a tour of their shop.

When Windmann transferred to Dyess he became an Air Reserve Technician, and after 10 years he still enjoys his job.

“I love this job too much. I’ll probably stay in as long as I can,” said Windmann.