Monday, July 16, 2012

Conversations Between Scientists and Sailors: UNSCRIPTED

Dylan Ottman is a member of the Office of Naval Research's TechSolutions Program.  Their goal is to allow junior warfighters to propose solutions, fund them, and see them implemented well within the standard procurement cycle.  They have been involved with numerous innovative projects in the last few years.  One of them is detailed below.


Most Navy aviation personnel are familiar with the aviation tool room, where repair maintenance personnel find the tools and supplies necessary to keep U.S. Navy aircraft in the sky and our pilots safe. These tool rooms are normally managed using a manual logging process that is time-consuming, error-prone and inaccurate for tracking HAZMAT use. The antiquated process increases maintenance time and causes errors that lead to misplaced resources.

The maintenance tool facility is centrally managed by a Sailor who is responsible for making sure that his or her fellow maintenance personnel properly check out and check in tools. The purpose is to ensure the return and safekeeping of hazardous materials, to maintain all tools and to track and order inventory.

In late June 2011, after a long day of repairing and maintaining the Navy’s air fleet, Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class Warren Bennett and his crew members waited in long lines to check in tools and supplies with the maintainer. The procedure was tedious, requiring the maintainer to use a pen and paper notebook to check in supplies and materials, and the Sailors in line sometimes waited hours to return supplies after a long day of work.

For the maintainer, the work can be extremely arduous; logging in materials that need to be tracked to determine supply level, recording amounts of hazardous substances before and after use, and trying to move quickly while writing clearly and accurately.

Having been a part of the process day in and day out, Bennett had accepted the system merely because it was never questioned. However, one day, Bennett began to think that in today’s information age, the process needed to be updated. New realities require adaptation.

Bennett was resourceful and had an idea to innovate the outdated process using an inventory management software program and barcode system. The software would be custom-made for the tool room and have the ability to perform inventory tracking and supply management.

“Navy Innovation depends on you, the individual Sailors.”

Bennett had heard that one-liner from Big Navy and others but, unfortunately, had not found a channel in the Navy in which to transform innovative ideas into realities. That all changed in July 2011, when he reached out to three individuals running a program at the Office of Naval Research specifically created to accept requests from Sailors and Marines and turn them into solutions: TechSolutions.

Run by two engineers and a master chief, TechSolutions is a program that gives individual Sailors and Marines a chance to speak up about a problem or challenge that technology and innovative thinking can solve. The TechSolutions process is solely dependent upon requests from Sailors and Marines to create technology solutions — facilitating technological pull, NOT technological push.

This free-flowing, unscripted conversation between scientists and Sailors is what TechSolutions needs to exist.  Both are equally instrumental to its success.

As with every project, once the TechSolutions team decided to take on Bennett’s request, they worked closely with him and other subject-matter experts to further define the problem and the required solution capabilities. They then reached out to the naval research communities for potential solution ideas.

Keeping warfighters like Bennett involved throughout the process is a major priority for TechSolutions.

“We want to ensure when we hand the completed solution prototype to the requesting Sailor or Marine, the final product is what they need to solve their problem, to improve efficiency in the fleet/force and improve their way of life.  This is why we keep the submitter involved from start to finish,” said Master Chief Charles Ziervogel head of the TechSolutions program.

The time from start to finish may surprise you. TechSolutions delivers a working prototype to the requesting Sailor or Marine within 12-18 months of their submission. The team accepts requests from all ranks, communities and rates to develop creative solutions and push them forward to become new naval capabilities. TechSolutions often takes a wide variety of pre-existing technologies or resources, both conceptual and mechanical, and recombines the parts to create new and improved capabilities.

In order for Techsolutions to be successful, the program needs active engagement from Sailors and Marines. Please get involved via the TechSolutions website (NMCI access only). To submit a request, simply answer three basic questions:  “Who are you?” “What is the problem?” and “What needs to happen to solve it?” Every query will be answered.

In the information age, innovation is the primary driver of advances in science and engineering. TechSolutions promotes a horizontal communication chain where the lines between innovator and warfighter intersect, where the knowledgeable and determined Sailor or Marine with an idea is valued.


  1. "The time from start to finish may surprise you. TechSolutions delivers a working prototype to the requesting Sailor or Marine within 12-18 months of their submission." - You mean anything, or the solution to tool tracking? How could the US Navy not implement electronic tags and barcodes to its tool inventory for so long? Its been in use in the shops for a decade at least. Seems to me that either no one who works for the Navy shops, or...

  2. TGbR...welcome to the Navy bureaucracy. Things like these are good steps...but you raise the exact problem in the culture we are trying to reform. I agree with your sentiment. 12-18 months is pretty darn good, especially compared with 30+ year aviation procurement cycles...

  3. Unfortunately, resistance comes from within as well as from above. It's difficult to overcome the resistance that so many work centers have.
    I'm sure there were plenty of crabby sailors who fought this, or replied,
    "Good luck, but I doubt anything will change."
    "We NEVER had it as easy as you guys have it now..."
    and other stupid things we senior petty officers and chiefs say when we fear change.
    I wonder too how many times AT3 heard "what happens when the computers go down?"

  4. [groovista = Moe DeLaun = Steve Weintz]

    "Look, the Mk.V helium hat and the suit keep me warm and dry and safe. I got unlimited air, a phone to the surface and a couple of guys topside looking out for me. I'm not gonna trade that for cold water and a thing in my mouth. I can't even swim real good. SCUBA is stupid."

    -- a hypothetical anonymous Navy diver, ca. 1960

  5. Cpt. George Bond impressed both enlisted men and astronauts enough to follow his dream of saturation diving, and he found brass who would listen and back him.