Above: Warrant Officer Kevin Ton, left, allied trade officer at B Company, 10th Brigade Support Battalion, 10th Mountain Division, instructs B Company Soldiers on 3D modeling techniques May 24 on Fort Drum, New York. Left: Soldiers learned how to use 3D printing to streamline the replacement of small parts of military equipment that are otherwise expensive or tedious to obtain, improving the readiness of 10th Mountain Division as a whole. (U.S. Army photos by Pvt. Elijah Campbell)
Unit kickstarts innovation program at Fort Drum
Pfc. Mason Nichols
27th Public Affairs Detachment
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 24, 2023) – Many divisions across the Army – including 82nd Airborne Division and 3rd Infantry Division – have started innovation labs. The 10th Mountain Division is not one of those divisions.
Soldiers of B Company, 10th Brigade Support Battalion, have decided to spearhead their own innovation lab program in hopes of getting 10th Mountain Division to buy into an innovation lab.
The innovation lab at B Company has been heavily focused on an additive manufacturing class that teaches Soldiers how to 3D print parts necessary for dead-lined or non-functional items.
Warrant Officer Kevin Ton, allied trades warrant officer, teaches the course.
First Lt. Monica Middleton, the Innovation Board leader at B Company, explained the importance of this class.
“Mr. Ton is leading a 3D printing class for Soldiers across the division,” Middleton said. “He is teaching them how to backwards engineer components and bring them into reality using 3D printing, which will benefit not only the brigade but the entire division, because you’re taking small components that can fill different deadlines and deficiencies.”
The course is in response to the large quantity of parts with no serial number that can make a piece of equipment completely unusable. Breaking a single button or knob that can have almost zero actual cost to produce may cause an entire piece of equipment to be replaced, costing the Army thousands of dollars. Middleton has experienced real-world examples of this problem.
“The components he is teaching Soldiers how to print normally would be ordered in bulk at a much higher price. For example, a knob for one of the sets of night vision goggles – he is able to create this button for three to five cents that would normally cost a few thousand dollars to create,” Middleton said. “So, all of the components he can generate are cost effective, and yet they still work to bring a dead-lined piece of equipment up to being usable.”
The program provides focused academic instruction to allow Soldiers throughout the brigade and the division to learn to not only produce 3D printed parts but also to design new parts as necessary. It includes one course of instruction on how to model 3D components on an application called Autodesk and another course showing how to produce those parts on a 3D printer.
The goal of B Company and their innovation course is to garner the support of 10th Mountain Division and get a division-wide innovation lab. Ton is working towards this goal.
“What we are doing right now is a grass-root initiative, and hopefully we can get the division to buy in and start an innovation lab that will allow us to match with the other divisions within (U.S. Army Forces Command),” Ton said.
Middleton is working for this objective at her level as well.
She noted that “1st Brigade Combat Team is very focused on innovation efforts and ways to enhance our fighting capabilities.”
“The 3D printing component for us is a big deal, because this is an area we can fix dead-lined equipment whether it’s for our medics, our mechanics, … or infantry guys to be able to fight effectively,” Middleton said. “For integrating into the rest of the division, 10th Mountain Division is looking at getting an innovation lab for all of Fort Drum. In the interim, B Company is spearheading an innovation lab at our level.”