The cups for which the US Air Force will 3D print the handles are not ordinary cups but cost $1210 each if you replace the complete cup because of a broken handle. These metal cups are designed to work with Air Force crew when they are working in pressurized areas. Aircrew, such as the KC-10 Extender refueling boom operators, fly routinely in bad weather and turbulence and also have to stay at their stations for several hours. These crew members cannot use any other cup. The Air Force then uses steel cups with a hinged lid, a plastic handle and a heating element which is built into the cup. When the cup is plugged into a charging station, it can help to keep your beverage hot.
A self-heating cup is a good item to be used for aircrews, however, it comes with a price. When these mugs are dropped, they can easily break the handles. Since spare handles cannot be ordered, therefore, they have to purchase new cups for $1210 each. In early 2018, Air Force spent $32000 to purchase 25 new coffee cups. This is a ridiculously high amount to spend on coffee mugs.
To cater to this problem, the airmen at Travis Air Force base in California are using 3D printing to print new replacement handles. Phoenix Spark, an Air Force program, will be using the cutting edge technology to deal with everyday problems. It will be printing the handles to refit them into the broken mugs. This will save the Air Force thousands of Dollars.
Pheonix Spark has redesigned the cup’s handle and has replaced the square bottom with a better one which can resist breakage. It printed the part in such a way that it resembles the rings of a tree and has a solid core supported by thinner layers on the outside for enhanced strength. The handle is also made more ergonomic and is comfortable to carry. The 3D printed part is required to be certified for use on Air Force aircraft. Fingers crossed!