$10,000 Air Force toilet seat covers reduced to $300 thanks to 3D printing

Following a letter from U.S. Senator, Chuck Grassley demanding justification for the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) expenditure on $10,000 military aircraft toilet seat covers, Airforce officials have announced that it will now pay $300 to produce the part thanks to 3D printing.

“You’ll think: there’s no way it costs that,” said Dr. Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics in a recent interview with Defense One.

“It doesn’t, but you’re asking a company to produce it and they’re producing something else. And for them to produce this part for us, they have to quit what they’re making now. They’re losing revenue and profit.”

Fighting licensing agreements with 3D printing

According to Roper, due to the DoD’s licensing agreements and intellectual property rights with industrial manufacturers, the AirForce faces unnecessary process costs from its partners as many no longer supply individual parts nor produce them.  

The manufacturer of the C-5 cargo aircraft toilet seat covers stopped production in 2001, resulting in an increased overall cost for the parts.

It looks like it’s a certain price in the GSA [Government Services Administration] catalog, the business case is what drives it up. I don’t think that company wants to stop building what they’re building and restart the toilet seat line,” added Roper.

To remedy this issue, Roper will use the Airforce’s 3D printed resources, such as The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), who is currently investigating nano-fillers for structural bonding between layers of 3D printed material, to 3D print aircraft toilet seat covers that will be easily accessible for aircraft crews.

A similar issue arose for the Travis Air Force base due to the high manufacturing cost and increased demand for thermos handles. With the implementation of 3D printing, the aircrew is currently creating more durable handles, while significantly reducing the 60th Aerial Port Squadron’s(APS) previous expenditure.

Airmen wait to board a cargo aircraft. Photo via U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo.
Airmen wait to board a cargo aircraft. Photo via U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo.

The toilet cover “rip-off”

Grassley wrote his letter of concern to the Department of Defense Principal Deputy Inspector, General Glenn Fine in May, which has not yet gained a response. Believing this to be a gross misuse of the taxpayer’s money, Grassley stated:

“The Air Force has been paying such an outrageous price for toilet seat lids over a long period of time without notice or question makes me wonder whether the DOD Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is asleep at the switch.”

Responding to this statement, Kathie Scarrah, Director of Legislative Affairs & Communications at the Office of Inspector General (OIG), clarified that the OIG has audited and examined the spare parts issue.

“We have issued 44 audit reports related to spare-parts pricing,” said Scarrah. “In the majority of those reports, we determined that the DoD did not receive fair and reasonable prices for spare parts and that the DoD did not perform adequate cost or price analysis when it purchased commercial and non-commercial spare parts.”

The Air Force, intends to response to OIG, as well as Grassley, regarding the cost of the toilet seat cover.

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Featured image shows the Wright-Paterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Ted Theopolos.