CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- The Marine Corps has actively pursued and awarded the most innovative ideas for years now, encouraging Marines and Sailors of all units and job fields to identify ways to mitigate problems and streamline processes to improve their working environments. Dozens of creative ideas have evolved and are now implemented on the ground to help make the job easier for those service members who face obstacles and challenges in their work centers each day. For motor transport mechanics, an innovative steering wheel remover device is now available to prevent hundreds of tactical vehicles from being deadlined.
Last year alone, Marine Corps units submitted 136 requests to replace steering wheels and steering wheel columns that were cracked or broken, rendering Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacements (MTVR) and Logistics Vehicle System Replacements (LVSR) temporarily useless until a new part arrived.
“If the part is in stock, the truck can be fixed in about a week,” said Staff Sgt. Kyle Owens, a motor transportation chief with Combat Logistics Battalion 5, Combat Logistics Regiment 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group. “But since the replacement part is a fairly large item, supply doesn’t usually have a lot in stock. When it has to be ordered, it can take weeks or months to come in before our truck is back on the lot.”
Marines are most often the cause of the steering wheel cracking because of the tool they use to remove the steering wheel. The 10-way slide hammer kit is a component of the motor transport common B-Kit. It requires a significant amount of pressure to be applied, and then a forced yank in order to release the column. This activity often causes the steering wheel column to crack which renders the steering wheel inoperable and must be replaced. Behind the steering column is the housing for all the lighting wires, so when one of the trucks has a lighting issue that cannot be solved with a simple light bulb change, Marines have to remove the steering wheel to trouble shoot the wire housing unit. Because of the pressure applied to the steering wheel when the pulley is applied, it almost always cracks from the force.
“I was a young corporal working on trucks, and I was tired of getting chewed out for breaking the wheel,” said Owens. “I was bored at lunch with my buddy one day and we just started brainstorming a better way we could get the steering wheel off without breaking it every time,” said Owens.
There were some discarded tools and pieces of metal around the motor pool, and Owens saw a standard washer that looked about the same size as the center piece of the MVTR steering wheel. With a little creativity, he found a way to use the washer as a customized tool to remove the steering wheel while keeping it intact.
“I drilled three holes into the washer and welded a nut to the hole in the middle,” said Owens. “The nut had the proper threading to allow a bolt to be screwed in the middle of the wheel and with enough pressure, it pops the steering wheel right off.”
The other two holes were drilled in to the washer to align with the holes in the steering wheel. By screwing two bolts through the washer into the holes in the steering wheel, the washer was fastened securely to the wheel. At that point, Owens screwed a third bolt into the welded nut, and eventually it applied enough force against the steering wheel column to remove the wheel with nothing cracking.
“When I realized it worked, I put that washer in my pocket and took it with me to every unit I went to,” said Owens. “Anytime I would see another mechanic trying to remove a steering wheel using the slide hammer, I would toss them my washer and save them from the butt chewing they’d get if they cracked that wheel.”
It was 2012 when Owens first started using his handmade tool, and as a young Marine, he never really thought of it as a groundbreaking idea that could be destined for greatness. Eight years later as the chief in his section, he was approached by his unit Innovation Officer who was looking for Marines with good ideas. It was by happenstance that he thought of his washer, which had been used so many times the threading on the nut was almost completely stripped. He asked how he could suggest the idea to get something similar in every single mechanic’s kit so that cracking steering wheels became a thing of the past.
“My biggest thing was figuring out if there was a way to make more, so that the lance corporals and corporals under me wouldn’t have to deal with some of the same challenges I did,” said Owens. “If I can help make their life easier, that’s all the matters, because I know what it’s like to be that young Marine getting in trouble for breaking something, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘well how else am I supposed to get the job done?’”
Owens’ washer was submitted for the Innovation Challenge, but it was also taken to 1st Supply Battalion’s Digital Manufacturing Team (DMT) with hopes to duplicate the tool and produce more as a resource for other motor pools.
Cpl. Aiden Bemis, a digital manufacturing engineer with 1st Supply Bn., provided the capability to make Owens’ dream a reality. Through intense training and a background in Computer Aided Design (CAD), Bemis has perfected the art of reengineering to exploit today’s technologies and gain a Marine Corps advantage. He took the device and began designing the replica blueprint for mass production.
“What the DMT does is identify parts in the supply chain with long lead times that break often and cost a lot of money that we can produce for way less,” said Bemis, who has helped save the Marine Corps more than $50k through additive manufacturing.
Originally a field radio operator, Bemis is now part of a small group of Marines in the Process Reform Office who use CAD to take an established item and reengineer it to replicate with 3D printing.
“We reverse engineer a finished product and revert it back to a 3D model with accurate measurements for printing,” said Bemis.
Using a 3D scanner, Bemis was able to scan Owen’s gadget to record the exact measurements required for printing. The first model was made of plastic and broke the first time it was tested. Additionally, the diameter was small and the drilled holes were off center, since the original device was built from a standard washer.
“The measurements on the initial prototype didn’t match the exact location of the holes on the truck itself,” said Bemis. “My biggest obstacle was simply getting a more precise location of all the holes.”
After a few more minor adjustments to the precision and material needed for the 3D printing job, the ultimate version was completed and tested with success. The final tool was printed with 17-4 steel, and popped off its first steering wheel with ease and most importantly, no damage.
“There were four prototypes total before we got the finished product,” said Bemis. “Once the prototype was finalized, I printed four batches.”
Each batch takes about a day to print, and consists of 36 steering wheel removal devices. One device weighs about half a pound, and its metal is completely solid. It costs an estimated $65 to print one, and around $150 to replace the steering wheel of an MVTR or LVSR.
For more information on the Process Reform Office, additive manufacturing, or to obtain one of the steering wheel removal devices, contact Mr. Robert Broussard at email@example.com.