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Innovation product potentially saves Air Force thousands

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Helena Owens
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs

Has there ever been a time at work where a process or piece of equipment just wasn’t cutting it? Imagine this, the average person works about a 40-hour work week. During that time they have to work with a piece of equipment that is 40 years old and gives more issues than solutions. That individual may want an upgrade. For one non-destructive inspection (NDI) technician, this was the case and he decided to take matters into his own hands. He submitted an idea, one of the 16 out of 6,500 submissions, which reached the Air Force level.

Tech. Sgt. Patrick Oliver, noncommissioned officer in charge of NDI assigned to the 36th Maintenance Squadron at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, designed a product that saves him and his team approximately 10 minutes of daily work and an estimate of $144,000 a year Air Force wide.

“I feel great about my idea getting to the Air Force level because it highlights the importance of our job,” said Oliver. “Usually, policies are already set in stone coming from the top down so getting to change something from the working level up to the top was awesome.”

NDI specialists find the smallest imperfections and take the corrective measures needed to keep Andersen’s equipment working safely. Andersen hosts large scale exercises annually that have many aircraft from all over the world that participate and each aircraft has to undergo testing for discrepancies. Oliver explained how they take the oil samples from the aircraft and put them into fluid holders that are then inserted into a machine called the Spectroil M Oil Analysis Unit for the test.

“Say we get an abundance of aircraft here for an exercise and they decide to all fly at once, that will require a ton of samples to be taken,” said Oliver. “We have a certain time frame after a sample is taken for it to get tested and the old sample fluid holders were presenting a challenge to test and clean quickly. I decided to come up with a prototype to help this process go quicker and more efficiently.”

Being that Guam is a remote island, receiving supplies can be costly and limited. Finding resources that are on island or can be made here eliminates these obstacles.

“Sergeant Oliver’s re-useable oil analysis caps are locally manufactured making our unit, and now Air Force units as a whole, more self-sufficient and thus more agile and more lethal,” said Maj. Stacey Sherrill, commander of the 36th MXS. “We do not have to rely on an outside supplier, and that is worth its weight in gold at a small island location. Furthermore, his caps eliminate the utilization of single-use plastic and vastly reduces the amount of consumable waste and time spent cleaning. That’s a win for 36th MXS, a win for Guam and a win for the Air Force as a whole!”

While most military innovation comes from formalized changes to doctrine and organizational structures, Air Force innovation is more likely to come from efforts of individuals and operational units.

“It is only through innovation, seeing old problems from a new perspective, that we can overcome the ever-present constraints of manpower, time, money and shortening the arc towards progress,” said Sherrill. “That is why Airmen, like Sergeant Oliver, who embody the innovative spirit are so crucial to an Air Force organization. They keep us pushing forward, challenging our old ways of thinking and refusing to accept the status quo. They keep us progressing towards a more lethal force.”