New innovation lab gives Airmen tools to invent

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Dylan Gentile
  • 919th Special Operations Wing

Whenever someone has a bright idea, the process required before it comes to fruition can take some time.

Between research, development, and approval for procurement, some people just don’t have the time or resources to share ideas or initiatives to increase efficiency throughout the organization. For Citizen Air Commandos at Duke Field, innovation could be less than a day away and cost next to nothing.

At the 919th Special Operations Wing’s new and improved innovation lab, every wall, table, and cabinet is full of the tools and technology to create solutions. Four large 3D printers are available to all those working at Duke Field. They’re accompanied by new computers with modeling software for anyone to use.

Mr. John Wilson, the 919th SOW’s process and improvement analyst, is an Army Veteran with a passion for new technology. He moved his office into the new lab to assist any Airmen who strive to create new tools to enhance the mission.

“The lab is a way for any Airman to come in and innovate, whether it’s through 3D printing or building something, in a way that makes their lives better or maybe even saves the government some money,” said Wilson.

The 919th SOW is no stranger to using 3D printers to find better ways to operate. In 2020, the 919th Special Operations Maintenance Squadron used the technology to create face coverings as well as a new tool to remove screws in the C-146A Wolfhound airframe.

“The screws on one of the airframes kept stripping and we were spending a lot of money to get new ones,” said Tech. Sgt. David Richards, a metals technology craftsman with the 919th SOMXS. “I designed a jackpad plug removal tool that could remove the screws without stripping them, then the shop 3D-printed one and we put it to work.”

At that time, the wing only had two amateur printers that moved somewhat slowly.  Since then, the wing has invested more into the technology. The technology itself has also improved, with the speeds of the new printers beating out the older models by hours.

Faster speeds, equipment improvements, free software, and an expert on duty are just some of the improvements in the new lab. The goal of 919th SOW leadership is to make these tools more accessible so that more Airmen can get creative with their work processes.

“Airmen have created all kinds of gadgets [to improve the mission] for the Air Force in recent years,” said Wilson. “We have to innovate. The rest of the world keeps moving and, if we don’t change, we’re going to fall behind.”

Cynthia Duffey, 919th SOW director of psychological health, has already started finding ways to make use of the lab. She 3D printed an award for the upcoming wing kickball tournament and started creating fidget devices for her clients.

Wilson wants to remind those employed at Duke Field that the lab has more than 3D printers. He also keeps cabinets full of tools handy for those whose ideas are less printable.

“I hope to see this place packed with Airmen during future drill weekends,” said Wilson. “Whether it’s a tool at work that’s really expensive or hard to find, or something else entirely, we have some really smart people here and we’d like to see them use that talent.”

The innovation lab is open on request throughout the week and members are advised to contact 801-710-4289 for access. The room is open throughout UTA weekend for aspiring innovators and is in the rear right entrance to building 3021, across from the Duke Field Chapel.