“TechSolutions allows individual warfighters to submit a request and get short-turnaround solutions from the science and technology community,” says Master Chief Electronics Technician Charles Ziervogel, the Command Master Chief at ONR and fleet liaison for TechSolutions.
The process is simple: A Sailor or Marine contacts TechSolutions via the web or email and shares a problem or situation that needs attention. “We want to hear from the Sailor handling the lines, or the Marine toting the rifle. They know what the pressing issues are,” Ziervogel says. “All we need to know is: what is the problem; what needs to be done to fix the problem; and how should we contact you?”
TechSolutions aims to provide the fleet and force with prototypes that deliver 60-80 percent solutions which address immediate needs and can be easily transitioned by the acquisition community.
In the world of acquisition, where requirements, resourcing, selection and procurement can take a decade or more, the TechSolutions process turns it all around in about a year, sometimes less. “We try put to the final product in the hands of the Sailor that made the request. Whoever generates the requirement may see direct results during his or her tour,” Ziervogel says.
The idea is shared with the various research teams at ONR, covering all of the science and technology (S&T) disciplines, ONR departments, and warfare domains and enterprises. “We cross all the boundaries,” he says.
A Sonar Technician had a solution to the annoying buzzing hum caused by the fluorescent bunk lights in the berthing compartments. He suggested Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting instead. In fact, it turns out that replacing all the incandescent and fluorescent lighting throughout the ship with longer-lasting LED lighting is an even better idea.
“They last longer, and use much less energy, and energy savings translates to fuel savings,” says Stephanie Everett, program manager for TechSolutions.
Instead of having watch standers go out on the weather deck to take periodic observations and then send a formatted message to the Fleet Numerical Meteorological and Oceanographic Center (FNMOC) in Monterey, California, every six hours, a suggestion was made to have an automated system take constant observations day and night and submit the data to FNMOC. The Automated Shipboard Weather Observation System removes guess work about sea state, wave height and cloud cover, removes the tedious and error-prone task of writing and transmitting the message on time, and keeps Sailors out of heavy weather,
“In addition to relieving the impact on the crew, one of the goals is to improve fidelity, consistency and frequency of the observations,” says Everett. “The weather prediction models will be more accurate with consistent data taken by precision instruments.”
Food service records have also gone “high tech.” New Food Service Management Software works with menu planning system to provide an accurate inventory of food on hand, and helps figure out what to order. “You can find out if you have enough pasta on board to serve spaghetti and meatballs three weeks later,” Everett says.
It even provides nutritional analysis of the recipes. “It takes out the mundane financial management and inventory work so cooks can spend less time keeping records and tracking inventory, and more time preparing and serving great meals for the crew,” says Ziervogel.. “This is something that can benefit every ship.”
Finding the right tool
When Sailors in an aviation squadron maintenance department found paper records and log books hard to maintain, which made it difficult to ensure custody and accountability of the tools, TechSolutions helped develop an automated tool room software package and barcode inventory tracking system for all tools and equipment.
TechSolutions also helped create a personal digital assistant (PDA) that helps Landing Signal Officers (LSOs) on aircraft carriers record the details of all the landings they observe—the same information that had to be hand written into the pages of a logbook—and also transmit that data online to the LSO School where it is automatically captured by a central database.
When Marines said the large custom batteries powering their EOD disposal robots were heavy, costly, and required their own specialized charger, TechSolutions developed an adapter to allow the robot to run off standard military radio batteries instead.
Responding to a request from the fleet, TechSolutions is helping catapult operators on aircraft carrier flight decks exchange their thick notebooks with hand-held devices. Instead of bulky binders with tables, charts, graphs and lists of every permutation of every configuration—from type of aircraft to relative wind speed to weapons load to fuel state to barometric pressure—with a hand-held calculator to determine the proper settings for the catapult capacity selector valve (CSV) for that particular aircraft and configuration.
Schuette says TechSolutions is looking for low hanging fruit, with a big payoff in quality of life. “We want low-cost answers, with a high return on investment.”
“We’re looking for that sweet spot, where we have a Sailor doing something simply because we’ve always had a Sailor doing it,” Schuette says. “If we can find a way to have an automated process or a new device to simplify, improve or eliminate that task, then we’re doing the right thing. We want to solve problems, not symptoms.”
(As published in the November 2011 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News - www.marinelink.com)