Innovation is Key -It Starts With an Idea

Nov 23, 2023
Written by: Rod Wilson
Members of the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear team (CBRN) train on the new Vision 60 “Robot Dog” on Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, June 8, 2022. This new technology allows Airmen to react to CBRN threats down range without risking the safety of themselves or others.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan Metcalf, a 54th Helicopter Squadron flight engineer, poses with a pair of heated glove prototypes being tested by Team Minot at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, July 28, 2023. The 54th HS can work up to approximately 10,000 feet where temperatures can be extremely low, requiring the highest level of cold weather equipment to stay warm and offset hypothermia.
U.S. Air Force photos
Airman 1st Class Alexander Nottingham

For the men and women working at Atomic Spark “It’s an additional duty” according to Col Stephen Kroft who is the head of the 5 CONS on Minot Air Force Base. “I am passionate about innovation and have always loved solving problems”.

Atomic Spark is the innovation cell for the base according to Kroft. “Contracting also does innovation. We do all of the buying for the base. We do market research and try to find the best possible products and service.” But the products that are purchased are “commercial off the shelf” explains Kroft. “Atomic Spark takes on those issue where we are not able to find a workable solution off the shelf.” The group also steps in and helps identify solutions for problems that don’t have a commercial off the shelf solution on the market. “We try to work with them (Atomic Spark) to try and find the solution” continues Col Kroft.

Explaining it further, Kroft says that there are different groups within Ignitor. “Atomic Spark works to find innovative solutions, you have contracting looking to find commercial off the shelf solutions, then there is CE that handles all of the facilities issues, then you have CPI that does process improvement” says Kroft.

Atomic Spark works with the units to identify issues. “We ask them what are your issues? And we’re going to work with you and partner with you to find solutions…guiding them through the process.”

Typically, the group works on one unit (project) at a time and try to finish that project in 6 to 8 weeks. An example of what the group may be working on would be a real time weather solution for B 52s when they are no longer above the U.S. where they can easily access weather information. “We are looking to identify a commercial solution for that problem” Kroft shares. And then there was the problem where there was an in service radio unit that needed to find a replacement battery. “As they got older, they had trouble finding batteries”. That issue was solved by going directly to the manufacturer. “We have to continually look for supply channels. When a supply channel no longer carries an item, we have to look for, and make sure that there is a replacement for that item.”

A more recent success story is the purchase of over 1,400 pairs of electric gloves that were commercial off the shelf products. “We tried to use American made products, but the manufacturers were not able to have the gloves to us before winter. The electric gloves were the answer to the issue of trying to keep the gunner’s hands warm in the helicopters. “When you are flying at 100 miles per hour with the door open and negative temperatures, it gets pretty cold” explains Kroft. But they still need to find other solutions for cold weather gear. “We want to try and make them comfortable doing their job.”
For Col Kroft and the others in Atomic Spark the job is never done.

Out next article will feature one of the solutions that is being used every day at Minot Air Force Base.

Members of the 5th Contracting Squadron hold a meeting with other squadron leaders to discuss new heated glove prototypes for base personnel at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, July 17, 2023. Gloves are an essential item in the winter for Minot Airmen, Who must work in temperatures that can reach 50 below zero.

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