2022 Department of Defense Maintenance Innovation Challenge Winners Announced

Orlando, FL, December 13, 2022—The Overall Award winner and the People’s Choice Award winner for the Department of Defense (DOD) Maintenance Innovation Challenge (MIC) were announced today during the DOD Maintenance Symposium in Orlando, FL.

The six finalists for the MIC presented their solutions to a packed audience on Monday, December 12. Today, judges announced that the Overall Award winner is E-Drill: A New Way to Remove Aircraft Fasteners, submitted by Jim Becker from Perfect Point EDM and Jared Wright from Naval Air Systems Command. The People’s Choice Award winner is Fiber Optic Fusion Splice Repair, submitted by Brett Jordan from Air Force Research Laboratory and Tech. Sgt. William Kesler from the Aircraft Battle Damage Repair Technical Support Office, Air Force Sustainment Center.

Perfect Point EDM has invented a rapid way to remove aircraft fasteners: the E-Drill. E-Drill uses a semi-automated, plunge cut electrical discharge machining or “EDM” tool to remove a fastener in seconds. Artisans use the provided tooling to properly align E-Drill’s copper electrode, pull the trigger, and E-Drill completes the drilling process. The removed fastener is in two pieces: head and pin, with no shavings.

E-Drill uses vacuum-assisted alignment jigs, which enable E-drill to access more than 95% of aircraft fasteners, including from upside down, curved, or vertical sections. Studies show at least a 75% reduction in aircraft damage, and a 20-times reduction in time to remove a fastener. On August 18, 2022, NAVAIR issued an official Authorization Letter, clearing E-drill for use on an initial set of general use cases.

The People’s Choice Award winner, Fiber Optic Fusion Splice Repair, offers a new way to repair fiber cables. Unlike with copper wiring, there is no approved procedure for repairing fiber optic cables onboard aircraft. The current practice is complete, end-to-end replacement of damaged fiber optic cables. The procedure is intrusive, time consuming, and negatively affects aircraft readiness.

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Electrical and Electronic Materials Evaluation Team and Aircraft Battle Damage Repair Office worked together with Aurora Optics, Inc., to adapt a commercial, fiber fusion-type of repair and adapted it for military-type fiber cables. The starting point was a Boeing-approved kit for use in commercial Boeing aircraft. Fiber Optic Fusion Splice Repair tooling allows permanent repairs to broken fiber cables with a minimum increase in tooling for maintainers. During field testing, a total of eight fusion splice repairs were made, all meeting the minimal signal loss requirements. Two splices were made on an F-35A Lightning II, and one on an F-22 Raptor. The field test demonstrated that a trained maintainer with the proper equipment can perform an acceptable fusion splice repair on an aircraft in roughly 20 minutes, while the current practice of replacing a damaged fiber optic cable can take hours or days.

The Joint Technology Exchange Group (JTEG) principals served as judges, selecting the Overall MIC winner from a total of 92 outstanding entries. Audience members at the MIC session selected the People’s Choice award winner from the six finalists, based on their presentations.

The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) is pleased to support the 2022 MIC by providing $50,000 of in-kind support to both the Overall Award winner and the People’s Choice Award winner. The funds will enable the winners to conduct further demonstrations for DOD representatives.

The MIC competition is open to new innovations that include novel technologies, unique collaborative business relationships, resourcing strategies, business processes, production processes, and any other transformative capability that has the potential to make maintenance and sustainment more agile, effective, efficient, and affordable. For information on all six finalists, visit https://www.ncms.org/news/finalists-named-for-the-2022-maintenance-innovation-challenge/.