2023 Department of Defense Maintenance Innovation Challenge Winners Announced

San Diego, CA, December 19, 2023—The Department of Defense (DOD) announced Monday the Overall Award winner and the People’s Choice Award winner for the 2023 DOD Maintenance Innovation Challenge (MIC) during its annual DOD Maintenance Symposium in San Diego, CA. The six finalists for the MIC presented their solutions to a packed audience on December 18. The Overall Award Winner is 3-in-1 Portable Surface Preparation System, presented by Jeff Piascik, Director of Research and Development for Atmospheric Plasma Solutions (APS), and Scott Meller, CEO for APS. The “People’s Choice” Award Winner is: Identifying Aircraft Pressurization Leaks Using Acoustic Imaging, presented by CMSgt. Edward H. Marchbanks and SRA Tristan McKee, both from 439 Maintenance Squadron, Westover ARB.

APS, an NCMS member, developed the technology behind the 3-in-1 Portable Surface Preparation, known as PlasmaBlast®, to offer a precision surface preparation system that can be utilized to rapidly remove coatings, clean surfaces, and promote adhesion. The PlasmaBlast technology requires no media, generates no waste streams beyond the removed coating, allows for debris capture, presents no undue occupational or environmental hazards to the operators, and can remove partial or whole coating layers across a wide variety of platforms. The system sets up quickly, with only electricity and compressed air as inputs (no media or chemicals) and is quickly deployed to forward operating locations. Localized repair, which can require hours of surface preparation just to perform inspections on critical areas, can be reduced to minutes using the PlasmaBlast system. The complete elimination of media to remove coatings reduces the de-painting waste stream by more than 95% which provides environmental benefits, increases efficiency, and lowers costs.

The “People’s Choice” Award winning technology, acoustic imaging for identification of aircraft pressurization leaks, arose as aircraft maintenance professionals sought to improve on the traditional methods–feeling for leaks with hands or using plastic bags to identify leaks. An innovative off-the-shelf technology, acoustic imaging cameras, are able to very accurately pinpoint pressure leaks and overlay this information on a camera image. Utilizing an array of microphones tuned to the ultrasonic frequency of pressure leaks, these cameras can triangulate the location of leaks from up to 20 feet away. On-aircraft testing has demonstrated their operational effectiveness in the loud flightline environment, easily distinguishing the sound of leaks from the background noise. These cameras also provide technicians with the ability to peer into confined spaces typically inaccessible during pressurization runs due to personnel safety concerns.

The DOD Joint Technology Exchange Group (JTEG) principals served as judges, selecting the Overall MIC winner from a total of 95 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) presented both groups of winners with a check for $50,000, which can be applied to in-kind support. These 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/dod-announces-finalists-for-the-2023-maintenance-innovation-challenge/.