ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Due to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid response actions were required to mitigate the spread of the virus, to ensure safe mission contribute. AFWERX, a community of Air Force innovators who strive to connect Airmen to solutions, requested Spark Cell centers across the Air Force to assist in virus mitigation efforts with personal protective equipment innovations.
The Wing Innovation Advancement Center on base is part of the Spark Cell program, which is a base commander’s program that allows unit members to share their ideas across the Air Force. With the support of AFWERX and a request from the 97th Medical Group, the Spark Cell team went to work.
“The medical group originally asked for ways to mitigate high traffic contact points like door handles and asked if they could get hands free door openers,” said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Michael Molzhon, the superintendent of the Wing Innovation Advancement Center. “There were several different types of door handles in their building to account for, so we worked with a variety of solutions for the issue.”
The Spark Cell team went to work with the goal to create a rapid response solution to be easily distributed.
“What we ended up going with was a fixed handle design, since most commonly used doors utilize them throughout the base,” said Molzhon. “During this time we also reached out to the rest of the base, since they could benefit from this, to find other ways we could assist.”
One of the members assisting with the handless door openers project was Tech. Sgt. T Mack, assigned to the 97th Force Support Squadron as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Altus AFB Honor Guard. Mack has had his own personal 3D printer since 2014 and used his skills to assist with coronavirus mitigation efforts.
“I redesigned an already made design for a hands free door opener and improved it,” said Mack. “The original design wasn’t long or thick enough, so I added length and curvature to make it easier to use and more durable. Chief [Molzhon] made several different sizes of wedges to help properly attach it to doors.”
The design for the hands-free door opener for fixed door handles, which Mack and Molzhon submitted, is being funded by the Air Force Rapid Agile Manufacturing Platform. A similar design for lever door handles made by Robins Air Force Base, Ga. is also being funded.
“We ended up working with Robins to have a local manufacturer create the mold for our designs for mass production,” said Molzhon. “Roughly 10,000 door handles are planned for distributed across the service for rapid mitigation efforts.”
The 3D printers at the Spark Cell center here have been utilized in the meantime to produce the hands-free door handles for high traffic areas. Other contributions to the medical group were printing additional face-shields for the members who were at lower risk for exposure but still have close contact with other members. Additionally, the 97th Maintenance Group’s fabrication shop plans to produce another version of a hands-free door hook for future use.
Now that the prototype has been finalized, the next step is a distribution shipment across the Air Force. Currently 2,200 door handles will be distributed across Altus AFB, Robins AFB, Ga., Royal Air Force (RAF) Mildenhall, England, and RAF Lakenheath, England.
“It was awesome to do something with my personal knowledge to help the Air Force,” said Mack. “I enjoy taking on difficult tasks and whether my solution gets used or not, it’s a great feeling to solve a problem. It only took ten minutes to redesign the handle and little accomplishments like this can make a large impact for many. Technology is rapidly developing and the Spark Cell program is a great way to share and upgrade a person’s skill set.”