PATUXENT RIVER, Md. (NNS) -- Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s (NAWCAD) Innovation Hub opened to the workforce during an open house event Aug. 7-9 at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
The iHUB is a new collaborative environment created to foster and enhance the command’s organic talent in rapid response to Fleet process and technical problems. The facility features prototyping equipment, materials, technical support and training. It is also home to the FABLAB, NAWCAD’s mobile suite of digital fabrication and rapid prototype machines.
The iHUB’S mission is to empower the workforce to deliver warfighting capabilities faster by providing modernized tools on-site and an environment to innovate and collaborate. The space includes digital fabrication and prototype machinery, laser cutters and milling machinery, 3-D printers, programming software and electronics, work benches and hand tools, data and application development software and high-tech collaboration space. The facility is available to all Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and NAWCAD military personnel, civilians and contractors.
Brought to life by Denise Cifone, director of NAWCAD’s Strategic Operations and Initiatives Office, the iHUB and FABLAB are direct responses from Gahagan and Taylor following a command climate survey where the workforce requested modernized resources to keep up with a rapidly changing tech and defense industry. The team also included rotation support from the developmental community, the Information Technology and Cyber Security group, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, the Army Corps of Engineers and industry partners who took the project from concept to ribbon cutting in just over 18 months—a true testament of the command’s charge for “speed to Fleet.”
“The iHUB is part of the NAWCAD innovation initiative to establish an environment in which the workforce can fashion the future,” said Cifone, “Aided by disruptive leadership, these resources help the command focus on creativity, technological advancement, process improvements, information sharing and networking.”
To date, the iHUB and FABLAB have facilitated over 50 projects ranging from fabricated engine nozzles to optical lens fixtures. Its latest success story comes from NAWCAD’s Propulsion and Power division. The engineering group was tasked with supporting the F/A-18 and EA-18G program office on the redesign of a Super Hornet engine exhaust actuator. The engineers realized they needed a special tool that was uneasy to procure. The program office’s business partners offered to produce a new set for $100,000 with a delivery date 10 months later. Instead, the engineers did it themselves.
Leveraging the resources at the iHUB, the engineers designed and prototyped the tool within 24 hours using Computer Aided Design (CAD). The item worked as intended on first attempt costing the Navy less than $5 in material and was pivotal in keeping the actuator project on schedule and budget.
Propulsion and Power also used the iHUB to redesign a fuel sampling probe for Fleet aircraft maintainers. The current probe fits improperly into the fuel pod during sampling sometimes causing spillage that splashes sailors with fuel. While this isn’t a critical safety issue, it was an issue noticed by NAWCAD engineers who knew it could be a simple, quick fix making the job of the warfighter easier.
So far the division’s organic probe design has evolved over six iterations in less than 20 labor hours saving the Navy thousands in design engineering dollars. The group has also strategically built the product to utilize commercial of the shelf components available from any catalog industrial supply company. Up next, the team will finalize the prototype after the Fleet validates and verifies its function ahead of third party production.
These are two examples of a new way of doing business at NAWCAD and the innovation would not have been possible without the command leadership’s support. But the command isn’t alone in adapting to an evolving battlespace. Marine Corps leadership is also moving to equip its units with 3-D printers in a push for self-sufficiency, and to facilitate direct support with its systems commands. The vision is for squadrons to identify Fleet issues and have the ability to print spare parts and equipment on the spot, or interface directly with engineers like those at NAWCAD who can use the innovation space to provide immediate solutions digitally.
Other innovation spaces at NAWCAD include command huddle spaces, the Innovation Garage at NAS Webster Field Annex, a Software Sandbox for cyber and app development, and a future Logistics Immersive Virtual Environment (LIVE) Lab dedicated to digitizing logistics at NAS Patuxent River.
It is critical for command leadership at the division level to encourage employees to work creatively and collaboratively now that resources to do so are available. Empowerment at the lowest level is a key also echoed in the latest NAVAIR Commander’s Intent focusing on mission, relationships and people in the years to come.
“Engineers have an innate desire to engineer, to design and innovate” said NAWCAD engineer Chuck Stouffer, “Employees are not realizing their full potential project managing industry’s solutions to our Navy problems from afar.” Stouffer also says the iHUB is a leap in the right direction. “Command innovators need no longer wish they had more capability because it’s here. The facility is fully equipped and readily available. Get up and go make it or take training to learn how.”
The iHUB also offers prototyping courses at the iHUB expanding the skillset of the command’s employees. The iHUB’s most requested classes are introductory, intermediate and operator 3-D printing courses. The facility is on track to train over 400 employees at NAS Patuxent River by end of FY2018—a number hugely surpassing its initial attendance goals. iHUB courses are available to every employee through NAVAIR University.
With facilities in Patuxent River, Maryland; Lakehurst, New Jersey; and Orlando, Florida, NAWCAD supports the research and development, engineering, test and evaluation of all Navy and Marine Corps air vehicle systems and trainers.
For more information about NAWCAD, please go to www.navair.navy.mil or follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MyNAWCAD/.
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