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'No ideas too small': Whiteman uses innovation to accelerate change within the Air Force

Air Force Global Strike Command STRIKEWERX Spark Sprint contestants stand with leadership and civilian leaders at the Cyber Innovation Center Friday, Oct. 15.  Two winners from the S3 competition will continue to the 2022 Air Force Spark Tank competition representing AFGSC.

Air Force Global Strike Command STRIKEWERX Spark Sprint contestants stand with leadership and civilian leaders at the Cyber Innovation Center Friday, Oct. 15. Two winners from the S3 competition will continue to the 2022 Air Force Spark Tank competition representing AFGSC. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Will Bracy)

Ryan Fouts, 509th Civil Engineer Squadron project manager, developed a metal hybrid 3D printer along with a team from South Dakota State University. Fouts presented a similar printer in the second annual Spark Tank innovation competition at Whiteman Air Force Base.

Ryan Fouts, 509th Civil Engineer Squadron project manager, developed a metal hybrid 3D printer along with a team from South Dakota State University. Fouts presented a similar printer in the second annual Spark Tank innovation competition at Whiteman Air Force Base. (Courtesy photo)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- In the second annual Spark Tank competition at Whiteman Air Force Base, one winner was selected from the wing level to advance on to the command level of the innovation competition.

After identifying the shortage of the Air Force’s assets that are no longer in production, Ryan Fouts, 509th Civil Engineer Squadron project manager, presented the idea of developing a metal hybrid 3D printer.

 “Many of the components for planes, vehicles, etc., are no longer available for purchase due to shortages of materials and labor or components becoming obsolete, making parts and tools difficult to find,” Fouts said. “Meaning these parts and tools need to be manufactured to keep the Air Force’s assets mission ready.”

Prior to joining team Whiteman, Fouts worked alongside a team at South Dakota State University to design and build a similar printer, hoping to positively impact manufacturing processes by saving time, money and materials.

Winners of the wing level competition are selected based on their perceived return on investment to the Air Force, innovativeness and achievability.

Spark Tank encourages rapid innovation by asking Airmen to apply methods, projects or technologies to enhance their day-to-day tasks.

“Innovation is the only path open to us to find new solutions to all of our problems,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Benjamin Fogarty, 509th Bomb Wing innovations director. “It empowers our people and encourages them to find new ways to perform at even higher levels.”

The wing level Spark Tank competition fosters the smallest ideas and turns them into solutions, while also raising commander’s all around awareness of problems Airmen face in their everyday tasks.

“No idea is too small,” Fouts said, “Your idea may have a larger impact than you think. If you have an idea talk to someone about it, sharing ideas is the best way to create an environment to solve problems.”

Fouts’ idea was not selected for submission at the Air Force level, however his project may still receive funding for development from both the wing and command levels of the Spark Tank competition. 

For more information or questions about innovation visit the Wing Innovation Office or email them at: 509bw.dowi.innovations@us.af.mil.