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Altus AFB innovation team design shared across service

Hands-free door handle.

The design for the hands-free door handle is displayed on a computer screen at Altus Air Force Base, Okla., June 5, 2020. The Spark Cell program allows members to connect with other Spark Cell centers across the Air Force to collaborate and brainstorm ideas, practices and designs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

Hands-free door handle.

A sign next to one of the hands-free door handles reminds members to “do less harm, use your arm,” located at the 97th Medical Group at Altus Air Force Base, Okla., May, 1 2020. The 97th MDG originally requested aid from the base’s Wing Innovation Advancement Center to help with disease mitigation and the door handle attachment was one of their solutions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sgt. Michael Molzhon)

Hands-free door handle.

Tech. Sgt. T. Mack, 97th Force Support Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of the Altus Air Force Base Honor Guard, showcases the different capabilities of a 3D model software and printer at Altus AFB, Okla., May 8, 2020. Mack has a personal 3D printer that he has been utilizing since 2014 and used his knowledge to assist with coronavirus mitigations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sgt. Michael Molzhon)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFNS) -- 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 contributions. 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 Altus AFB 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 Chief Master Sgt. Michael Molzhon, Wing Innovation Advancement Center superintendent. “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,” Molzhon said. “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, 97th Force Support Squadron 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,” Mack said. “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 AFB, Georgia is also being funded.

“We ended up working with Robins (AFB) to have a local manufacturer create the mold for our designs for mass production,” Molzhon said. “Roughly 10,000 door handles are planned for distribution 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, Georgia; RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom; and RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom.

“It was awesome to do something with my personal knowledge to help the Air Force,” Mack said. “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.”