The little shop that can make anything

  • Published
  • By Mike W. Ray
  • Tinker Public Affairs
When jet-engine maintenance mechanics in the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex need a one-of-a-kind or expensive tool or part to perform their jobs, they often visit the tool makers and engineers in the 76th Propulsion Maintenance Group's Repair and Development Shop.

"We support the backshops," said Mike Kraus, supervisor of the 76th PMXG R&D shop. "We manufacture everything from engine stands to fixtures needed to turn parts." Recently the shop built a metal stand for the F117 engine line to use in storing shafts.

The R&D shop can design a prototype of a requested part or tool and 'build from scratch', or manufacture one from a design drawn by others. The R&D 'tool kit' includes 3-D modeling and computer assisted design.

The R&D shop also "qualifies" tools and parts manufactured by others. For example, a repair part that Pratt & Whitney made for an F100 jet engine was sent to the 76th PMXG R&D shop recently for testing. "We qualify tools and parts to make sure they function the way they're supposed to," said Charles W. "Chuck" Brown, toolmaker.

"We never know what's going to come down the 'pike here," Mr. Kraus quipped. In addition, "Most of what we do is a one-off," Mr. Brown said. "Usually we make just one" part or tool, "then move on to the next project."

The R&D shop fulfills approximately 350 work orders each year -- equivalent to almost one every day of the year -- for tools and parts and fixtures, Mr. Kraus said. Most of those work orders are generated by the 76th PMXG, but a few come from other units at Tinker, records reflect.

The employees routinely work with various substances, including wood, plastics, ceramics, high-performance alloys, and titanium. "A lot of engine parts are made of titanium," Mr. Brown noted.

The 16 employees in the shop include tool makers, welders, plasma sprayers and engineers. "We work hand-in-hand with engineers," Mr. Kraus said.

The R&D shop utilizes a variety of lathes, mills and other computer-operated machinery. (In the shop's "turning center," where the lathes are located, the tool remains immobile while the part moves. In the shop's "milling center," the part remains stationary but the tool moves.) The R&D shop also has a high-pressure water-jet cutter that can slice through metal by applying 30,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, Mr. Brown said.

The shop's employees are cross-trained, Mr. Kraus said. Virtually everyone in the R&D shop can operate every machine on the floor proficiently.
"Our people have a lot of different skills," Mr. Kraus said.

To illustrate, one of the R&D toolmakers, Sheldon Glass, earned a master's degree in nanophysics (the study of laser particles) from the University of Oklahoma. Mr. Glass has 35 years of experience and teaches precision machining at Canadian Valley Technology Center in Chickasha.

Before he came to Tinker 15 years ago, Mr. Kraus attended several schools, trained as a welder, and completed a two-year degree program in machine tool practice. Next, he worked for a couple of private companies that manufactured oilfield equipment and tools. Then he hired on with a company that built particle colliders and water filtration systems for hospitals and chemical companies, and water purification systems for ballast on ocean liners.

Work performed in the R&D shop must be precise. Many jet engine parts have a tolerance of less than the width of a human hair, Mr. Kraus said. "I depend on these people every day to perform at their very best on a task that often has never been done before, but must be done on time, at cost, and must be absolutely correct."