The U.S. Air Force has announced that it will begin 3D printing toilet seat covers for cargo airlift planes after receiving criticism for spending $10,000 on replacements.
No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, most Americans can agree that the government isn’t always frugal when it comes to military spending. The country spends more on military and defense than the next top seven nations combined, and sometimes that funding goes towards some pretty surprising things.
The U.S. Air Force has recently received a fair amount of flak from Republican Senator Chuck Grassley after it was revealed that the branch was spending $10,000 to replace toilet seat covers on cargo airlift planes. Now, the military branch has announced that it will begin 3D printing the toilet seat covers in an effort to reduce costs.
The announcement came after Sen. Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, called for an investigation into why the Air Force has been spending such a large amount of money on things like meindividual toilet seat covers for military planes.
It does seems pretty outrageous for the military to be spending that much money for a simple toilet seat cover, but Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, claims that there’s more to the production process than meets the eye.
“If we can’t make ourselves we have to live with what the market can produce at a profitable level,” Roper said. “But of course we should not be paying industry for something that we can make more cheaply ourselves.”
The now-infamous toilet seat cover was originally produced by Lockheed Martin, but the aerospace and defense giant ceased production back in 2001. On top of that, the replacement part is more than just a simple toilet seat cover found in the typical home bathroom. The military service explains that it’s a C-5 “cover-center wall, troop compartment latrine,” which is a 1980s-era part that is designed to protect the aircraft from potential corrosion damage caused by urine.
According to Roper, the high cost doesn’t come from the toilet seat cover itself, but rather from the need for company’s to halt production of other parts to meet the Air Force’s needs.
Roper claims that since the U.S. Air Force doesn’t own the rights or the intellectual property needed to manufacture specific components for the cover. However, Stefanek breaks from Roper on this point, stating that the problem was never about IP, but due to diminishing manufacturing resources.
All in all, 3D printing is helping to reduce the price of this specialized toilet seat cover from $10,000 to just $300. Furthermore, Air Force media relations chief Ann Stefanek believes that this case serves as the perfect example of how additive manufacturing will revolutionize the way military produces replacement parts in the near future.
“We are not now, nor will we in the future buy that aircraft part at that price, because we can now do so more cheaply using 3-D printing,” Stefanek said. “Using this new process allows us to make parts that are no longer in production and is driving major cost savings.”