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NEWS | Jan. 12, 2024

Innovative problem solving key to happy customers

By Aime Lykins, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs

Nestled within the ground floor of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility’s Command University, the shipyard’s Moonshine Lab is a hub of innovation, prototyping and problem solving. The lab caters to the needs of its customers by using its sail loft, sheet metal, welding, machining, toolmaking, woodworking, 3D design and printing, industrial engineering analysis and multi-trade prototyping resources.

The Moonshine Lab works collaboratively, using existing standards and processes, to help employees find solutions to both simple and complex problems. Taking a systems-thinking approach as a diagnostic tool, the Moonshine Lab team conducts market research and investigates past actions to determine short and long-term solutions for the shipyard’s numerous shops and codes.

From 3D printed prototypes to the partitions used during the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Moonshine Lab offers a variety of services to all shipyard employees. With a focus on process improvement and problem solving, Moonshine Lab requests typically start with a genba walk to go and see where challenges exist. From there, a team of industrial engineers and mechanics analyzes the collected information to determine how to address the need.

Employees like Kati Pero, toolmaker, Shop 31, Inside Machinists, and Stanley Kitowski, industrial engineer, Code 100PI, Lean Office, are making a difference by working with customers to identify their unique needs and come up with solutions that will last.

“I have been working on a STEM 3D printing project for about a month, and it sounds like it will be a continuing partnership,” said Pero, who has been working in the Moonshine Lab for three years. “The most rewarding part of working in the Moonshine Lab is making something for a customer that helps improve the job for them. Not everything we make are earth-shattering inventions, but if I can improve safety, morale, or make the job someone has to do less cumbersome, that is a win for me. My favorite jobs are when the customer is excited to get the prototype I made for them. I feel like I made their day better.”

Past Moonshine Lab projects include the development and fabrication of freeze seal jacket sleeves, Parker Valve cartridge remover tools, heavy disk removal rails, bonnet wrenches for Henry Valves, radiac probe handle adaptors and U-Bin tube condenser hydrolance safety devices.

Currently, Kitowski is working on designing a device that will allow insulators to eliminate the cumbersome task of hand bending staples, by automating the process. Not only does the new process save substantial time, it also helps prevent repetitive use injuries from manual bending of the copper wire staples.

“The staple pad project has been worked on-and-off for about two years,” said Kitowski, who has been working in the Moonshine Lab for six years. “We are at the third version of this machine, with this latest version able to make consistent staples without jamming. The most rewarding part of working at the lab has to be the feeling of solving a customer's problem. We put a lot of focus on the end-user—the person who turns the wrench, takes a valve apart or surveys tanks for a living. From experience, we find that involving the end-user from the start leads to a higher chance the tool is adopted by the entire crew and makes a positive impact in the workplace.”

With a relatively small staff, Moonshine Lab employees work together to meet customer needs, gain stakeholder buy-in and see the projects through their entire life cycle without duplicating efforts.

“The Moonshine Lab’s performance has been amazing,” said Rachel Delgado, nuclear assistant project engineer, Code 2300, Nuclear Engineering and Planning. “From Stanley’s great customer service to Kati’s expert fabrication of a hydrostatic testing manifold, working with the Moonshine Lab has been an outstanding experience.”

As the shipyard evolves with the upcoming Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program, the need for fresh innovation and prototyping is bound to increase. The Moonshine Lab is standing by to help. To find out more or to schedule an appointment, call (360) 476-6323.