Making RAB better, faster, lighter through Hercules Innovation Lab

U.S. Air Force’s 86th Airlift Wings Innovation Lab and other collaborators come together for a group photo on Ramstein Air Base, April 18. The cap was created to prevent rain and other elements from getting into the deicing trucks equipment, saving repair costs long term. 

Imagine a neglected community garden. Overgrown weeds spill over the sides of wooden garden boxes and vines crawl up wire fencing while broken tools lay strewn about the ground.

The garden brings both a challenge and an opportunity. Despite limited resources, passionate residents come together to revive it. Through volunteer efforts and creative solutions like harvesting rainwater, installing a proper irrigation system, and improving the existing foundation they transform the garden into a source of affordable, nutritious food.

Some people might think innovating involves complex processes and knowledge beyond their scope, when the reality is anyone can innovate at any level. At Ramstein Air Base, this is where the 86th Airlift Wing Hercules Innovation Lab comes in.

“Better, faster, lighter is the goal here,” said Wesley Simmons, 86th AW HIL chief of innovation. “Most of the time innovation excels and thrives when you don’t have the resources that you feel like you need.”

The HIL actively seeks opportunities to improve efficiency, reduce costs and save man-hours when performing day-to-day tasks for units across Ramstein AB. Simmons hopes to instill the importance of innovation as a way of life on base by offering a plethora of resources for Ramstein Airmen.

“When you think about STEM and innovation it’s about creativity. All that comes down to is operationalizing your passions,” said Simmons. “If I can find someone that codes and makes video games on the weekends, then they can use our resources and relate that process to automate business operations.”

One of the HIL’s many success stories is U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Shane Roy, 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron vehicle maintenance apprentice. Roy came to the HIL in search of a way to prevent rain and other elements from getting into de-icing truck fixtures. Roy noticed a pattern of having to fix broken de-icer fixtures during winter months due to precipitation collecting in the nozzle and the freezing, causing cracks and other damage.

Through the help of the HIL, Roy was able to design, print and implement a plastic cap to go over the nozzles to prevent future damage, allowing those man-hours to be put toward more critical tasks and allow the de-icers to operate optimally at any given time.

The HIL is always looking for people from across the base with coding expertise or those interested in the development of new ideas, putting the capabilities and talents of Ramstein’s Airmen to use.

Ultimately, the innovation lab aims to enhance squadron workflows across the installation by exploring the integration of commercial software platforms. One of the platforms allows for modeling, rendering and animating 3D creations, while the other provides real-time development for crafting interactive 3D and 2D experiences.

Simmons hopes the new software and other resources the lab provides will encourage Airmen to find creative solutions to challenges they may face or will provide an avenue to enhance existing processes.

The HIL at Ramstein AB showcases the power of collaboration and innovation by driving efficiency and cost-saving measures across base operations. Through initiatives like integrating commercial platforms and creating inexpensive, 3D printed devices the base is able to harness the diverse talents of Airmen and continues to foster a culture of innovation and creative problem solving.

Visit the Hercules Innovation Lab website to get involved.