The Air Force Is 3-D Printing Coffee Mug Handles to Save $1,210 Per Mug
The U.S. Air Force has started 3-D printing coffee mug handles because otherwise it would cost $1,210 to replace a single one if it breaks. That's not a typo or a misplaced comma. It really costs $1,210 to replace the coffee mugs' handles. Granted, these are not the coffee mugs you're using at home or at work. (Unless you are in the Air Force.)
These mugs are designed specifically for use on larger Air Force aircraft like cargo planes and refueling craft where crews are in pressurized areas. According to Popular Mechanics, these crew members fly in bad weather and turbulence, and have to stay in in their locations for long periods of time. So the Air Force developed steel coffee cups with plastic handles and a heating element built in.
The problem is that, while the cups stand up to the tough work environment, the plastic handles don't hold up against routine drops. Since the cups are specially made, the Air Force can't just reorder standalone handles, so it has to buy new cups altogether, which is wasteful and expensive.
This year, the Air Force has spent $32,000 on 25 coffee cups.
Hey, things are getting better. At least they aren't spending $10,000 on toilet seats anymore: https://t.co/Cn8qasP9HO. Still some work to do though, such as finding away to get around that pesky $1200 coffee mug price... https://t.co/etqttgm0v8
— Chris (@555ChrisPugh) July 14, 2018
Declaring enough was enough, airmen at the Travis Air Force base in Travis, Calif., have started 3-D printing new replacement handles as part of the Phoenix Spark program to apply the latest technology to common problems in life.
Workers in the Phoenix Spark program redesigned the cup handles to make them less prone to breaking, too, by replacing the square bottom with a cored design supported by outer layers, reminiscent of rings of a tree. The lid is also more ergonomically designed, so crew members are less likely to drop them in the first place.
The Air Force is evaluating the design at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, as the 3-D printed handle has to be certified for use on Air Force aircraft. If it passes that, Phoenix Spark can mass produce the handles, thereby saving a ton of money and preventing cups with broken lids from becoming waste.
While there are, to our knowledge, no $1,210 mugs in the promotional products industry, the use of 3-D printing here sure is interesting, and hints at future possibilities for drinkware manufacturing and repair.