WEST BETHESDA, Md. —
Three teams of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division employees attempted the impossible: design, fabricate, integrate software and test a robotic vehicle that meets specific performance criteria in less than five days.
The Defense Acquisition University (DAU) conducted its Engineering Management Workshop Aug. 12-16, providing Carderock employees at the West Bethesda, Maryland, headquarters a hands-on learning experience that simulated the processes and situations Department of Defense (DOD) employees face in real life. After an initial introduction to the concepts, participants split into teams to plan, design, build and test their Lego robots and using Lego computer-aided software.
“We created our own master schedule, like a real acquisition program,” said Parker Field, a naval architect in Carderock’s Future Ship and Submarine Branch. “For each design, we evaluated the expected cost, logistic index and producibility index, and conducted notional tests to see how it handles and performs. Then we put together metrics for each design and compared, so we could justify why we picked a design.”
The workshop may use Legos, but the lessons are not child’s play. Each team must evaluate each Lego robot’s design as if it were a DOD platform: Will it meet weight requirements? How much will materials cost? How much will a design feature cost over the lifetime of the platform?
“When students experience issues firsthand, it’s a much better learning experience,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Kozola, one of the DAU course instructors. “I have found people often have a very narrow view of the program or acquisition cycle. This course gives an appreciation from initial conception all the way to realization and sustainment.”
Having a technical degree was not a requirement, with employees from a diverse mix of experiences and educational backgrounds attending the graduate-level workshop. Department chief engineers (CHENGs) worked with other employees.
“As the week goes on, students hear from each other’s experience, not just the teacher, and this makes the lessons that much more real,” said Dr. Jim Roche, DAU professor of engineering technology and former Carderock employee. “If you can anticipate what somebody’s needs are and plan toward that direction, then you’re that much more of a force multiplier.”
By mid-week, mechanical engineer Joel Luehr, who performs full-scale analysis for Carderock’s Signature Materials Physics Branch, said he gained a better understanding of what his sponsors have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
“I rarely get to see how requirements affect cost and schedule,” Luehr said. “Now I understand why things shift in the schedule.”
With only one month on the job, Haley Kirby, a STEM and outreach specialist, quickly learned what other Carderock employees do and the challenges they face.
“I think even new hires, like myself, can get so much out of this workshop and learn what the organization does,” Kirby said.
Carderock’s Technical Excellence Community of Interest (TechEx COI) evaluated a number of low-cost, high-impact courses and worked with the Workforce Development Branch to bring them on site. The TechEx COI’s goal was to provide knowledge, experiences and tools to the workforce to sustain Carderock’s technical excellence culture.
“Good policies and processes can only go so far,” said Lou Carl, Carderock CHENG and team lead for the TechEx COI. “We have to provide our people with the tools and training to be successful.”