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NEWS | Nov. 8, 2021

Eye on Innovation: Real Ideas Spark Innovation at Norfolk Naval Shipyard

By Kristi Britt, Public Affairs Specialist Norfolk Naval Shipyard

We live in an ever-evolving climate where new technologies and processes are developed daily across the globe. At Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY), the Technology and Innovation (T&I) Laboratory is working to bring these new innovations to America’s Shipyard. In addition, the team is working to nurture the ideas of its workforce, taking concepts and bringing them to actuality to help best improve how NNSY does business.

The NNSY T&I Lab launched the REAL Ideas Program with the desire to create a space where shipyard workers can submit and implement new ideas and technology to improve safety, cost, productivity, and quality of executed projects at NNSY. The program team collaborates with shipyard workers in understanding their needs, researching what’s available, and breaking down barriers to bring together the personnel who can help develop and deploy the ideas. The end goal is to either secure the desired process or technology, or develop it to fit the needs of the requestor.

“We launched the program a few years ago with the primary focus of benefiting our employees who work each day servicing our fleet,” said NNSY Innovation Program Dan Adams. “We want to be a tool for our workforce to use and bring ideas to the forefront, helping them overcome obstacles and turning those ideas into reality. We’re here to support you and your idea in whatever way we can.”

The REAL Ideas Program mission is to nurture and encourage workplace innovation and leverage new and existing technologies at America’s Shipyard. It focuses on bridging resource gaps to provide the workforce with the tools and assets necessary for creating a more efficient workplace.

Currently the process is for interested parties to email, call, or stop by the T&I Lab with their idea or their specific need. The team will then provide the customer with a submission form to provide as many details as possible, including background information for what needs to be addressed, what impact the idea will have for the shipyard and the Navy, and any other specifications required.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for our workers to be able to submit their ideas. Once we have the request in-hand, we can begin communications with the customer to make sure we’re aligned on our next steps,” said NNSY T&I Lab Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation (RDT&E) Manager Joey Hoellerich. “We track all ideas that are submitted to us and work with the Innovation Principle Council to determine what’s the best way forward to meet the needs of that particular idea. For example, if there’s a certain need that we aren’t familiar with but another code in the shipyard is and could provide better support, we link the customer and that group together so that their idea gets the attention it deserves from the subject-matter experts. If it’s something we are equipped to handle in the lab, we work with our customers from start to finish to fulfill their needs as best we can.”

“Sometimes people approach us with their problems that need to be addressed, sometimes people approach us with solutions already in mind,” said Additive Manufacturing 3-D Printer Operator Dixie Cox. “Whatever the case, we can work with our customers to best find a solution going forward.”

“It’s important to innovate because it increases safety of our personnel here at the shipyard as well as improves the efficiency of our workforce,” said REAL Ideas Program Manager Scott Burford. “Not only that, having programs like the REAL Ideas Program helps build morale for our workforce because they feel engaged. They have a voice and its being heard and acknowledged. What’s more, they feel that their ideas are appreciated. That’s a big thing for us here in the lab, we want to make sure our customers feel heard and that they have a clear path forward for their needs being met.”

Hoellerich added, “We at NNSY have a mission to get ships back to the fleet as fast as possible. We want our workforce to be properly fitted with the tools and processes to safely and efficiently complete that task. What’s more – these workers are on the job every day and know exactly what the work entails where they run into issues, and the best way to implement changes to the current process. We’re here to help them get to that end goal and work with them every step of the way.”