JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, Wash. --
Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 446th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, are earning a lot of recognition for their innovative solution to a common C-17 Globemaster II maintenance problem.
Reservists from the 446th Maintenance Squadron developed a mechanical device that makes extracting depleted battery cells from the C-17 battery housing more efficient and safer. Their efforts earned them a spot among the final six teams competing in the 2020 Air Force Spark Tank competition at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida, in February.
William Nelson, the chief of the metals technology shop for the active-duty 62nd Maintenance Squadron at McChord, originally brought the problem to the attention of Master Sgt. Roy Puchalski, the metals technology section chief for the Reserve's 446th Maintenance Squadron. The problem was in a process at the electrical and environmental systems battery shop that had been in place for decades, ever since the Air Force began flying C-17 cargo aircraft.
The process required one maintainer to hold the battery housing while a second maintainer removed the cell using brute force. During this procedure, the cells would often break and maintainers were occasionally injured.
Puchalski researched what maintainers at other C-17 bases were doing and determined a new tool was necessary. He designed a new tool that would extract cells with little effort and maximum safety.
"It soon became apparent the best, safest and most efficient way to remove stuck, damaged cells was to incorporate leverage," Puchalski said. "I spent many hours drawing up the new tool on our CAD software as well as mocking up a working prototype."
The tool gives the maintainer the ability to apply 14 pounds of force for every pound administered. For example, a technician can push down on the device with 20 pounds of force and the cell will be pulled out with 280 pounds of force.
At the time, the maintainers weren't thinking about the Spark Tank competition. Their main goal was to improve the work flow in their shop and create a more efficient process - something Puchalski tries to encourage.
"The metals technology career field draws some of the best talent the Air Force has to offer," he said. "We are always inspired to do great things. I try to encourage my Reservists to be innovative and think a problem through with multiple outcomes. Being a good problem solver can carry over into many facets
When Col. Kristen Palmer, the 446th Maintenance Group commander, became aware of the need for Spark Tank submission ideas, she immediately thought the battery cell extraction device would be a good submission. She began working with Master Sgt. Robert Tingle, the 446th Maintenance Squadron electrical and environmental systems section chief, to formulate a strong pitch to submit their idea.
"It was a real-world maintenance problem we needed to fix," Palmer said. "Then the Spark Tank opportunity came after the fact and we felt this was a chance to highlight our idea and get some funding for the tool to be made and shared with other C-17 bases.
"This experience has taught everyone in this group that there is always a different way of looking at a problem. When you come across an issue and the book answer doesn't sound right, go ahead and question it. But make sure you go through the proper channels and get permission."
"I've been assigned to this shop for a long time and this is the first time I can remember one of our ideas getting this much attention," Puchalski said.
Tingle helped maximize exposure of this project within the Spark Tank 2020 competition by reaching out through his own personal network, in and out of the military. He has a lot of active-duty experience he brings to his Reserve career as well.
"I have a really good network of mentors who are not in the military helping me," he said. "I have a total force network of military and civilian mentors who have shaped me into the motivated person I am today."
"Spark Tank is a chance to celebrate our Air Force risk-takers, idea makers and entrepreneurs who refuse to accept the status quo, and have determined their own fate by developing solutions that make it easier for us to bring our very best to the fight," said Lauren Knausenberger, Spark Tank director.
"When it comes to finding new and creative ways to improve our Air Force, often times, we don't have to look any further than our own teammates," said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright. "It's incumbent upon us as leaders to encourage creativity in problem solving. We must create a culture where Airmen are often trying, sometimes failing, and never giving up. This is how truly innovative teams get ahead. We owe it to our team, and to our nation, to do everything we can to bring the best ideas forward with programs like Spark Tank."
Check out the video for the battery cell extraction tool at
(Sommers is assigned to the 446th AW public affairs office.)