Saving more than $159m through innovation

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26 Jul 2022 | TECHNOLOGY

Saving more than $159m through innovation

Story by Teo Jing Ting // Photos by PIONEER photographers

Innovations and work improvement efforts from SAF personnel led to savings of over $159 million in the last financial year – $6 million above the set target.

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Each National Day Parade (NDP), thousands of SAR (Singapore Assault Rifle) 21 ammunition blanks are fired during the Guard of Honour Feu De Joie (or Fire of Joy).

When Military Expert (ME) 2 Joyce Yip was the Deputy Ammunition In-Charge (IC) for NDP 2020, she realised that counting the blanks each time after they were fired was a very tedious process.

"If someone interrupted me halfway or I had to attend to another matter while in the midst of counting, I had to restart all over again (so) it was very tiring."

When ME2 Yip took on the role of Deputy Ammunition IC at NDP 2020, she came up with a more efficient way to count ammunition blanks and took action to turn idea into reality.

When she took on the same role for NDP 2021, ME2 Yip decided to find a way to make counting of ammunition blanks faster and easier.

The 37-year-old air force engineer from 817 Squadron under the Republic of Singapore Air Force's 7 Air Engineering & Logistics Group first experimented with metal sensors, using batteries to simulate blanks, in March last year.

Despite the initial success, the metal sensors could not detect anything when she trialled the counter with blanks as the material was different from that of a battery.

She then managed to procure a suitable sensor from a shop in Sim Lim Square, and built the automatic blanks counter box which comprises a container, sensor and LED display.

The counter box uses a container, sensor and LED display to improve the efficiency and accuracy of the ammunition blanks accounting process.

When a blank is inserted into the container through the entry point, it will be detected by the sensor. A signal will then be sent to the automatic counter, and the blank will be accounted for on the LED display.

The automatic blanks counter box also only requires one person to do the counting, instead of the usual 10-man team.

ME2 Yip trialled the automatic blanks counter box during NDP 2021 and that proved to be a success. The counter is also currently being used at this year's NDP.

Embracing the innovation spirit

For single-handedly brainstorming and designing the counter box, ME2 Yip won the MINDEF Dare to Do Award. She was among the 11 individuals and teams who received this award as part of the IGNITE Innovation Symposium 2022 (IIS22).

Held at the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) on 26 Jul, the IIS22 aims to recognise the achievements and contributions of units and personnel in innovation. It also provides a platform for learning as well as meaningful discussions across MINDEF, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and partners to co-create new ideas.

Dr Ng (left) interacting with award winners at the IIS22.

Speaking at the event, Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen highlighted the significance of cultivating an innovative spirit in the SAF and congratulated the award winners.

"That spirit to innovate is critical for MINDEF and the SAF to deal with known and unknown security challenges. As winners, you exemplify and promote that innovative ethos that is essential for mission success."

A total of 88 awards were presented to individuals, teams and units from MINDEF and the SAF in recognition of their innovations and work improvement efforts, which led to savings of over $159 million in the last financial year.

Dr Ng (right) presenting the MDA to Commander SAFAC ME7 Liew Hin Ban.

Freedom to experiment

Dr Ng also presented awards to eight Minister for Defence Award (MDA) recipients. Among them was the SAF Ammunition Command (SAFAC).

To overcome operational challenges and resource constraints, the SAFAC set up the AmmoZone Ecosystem in 2019 to provide a safe space for SAF personnel to experiment and trial new ideas.

One of the key innovations that came about was the ammunition change-out initiative or "155 TNT Refresh Project", where the limiting or defective component of an ammunition is replaced instead of disposing of the whole thing. TNT refers to a powerful explosive substance.

Under the "155 TNT Refresh Project", the new TNT filling is placed into the old shell, saving the need to buy new ammunition.

"Upon reaching its shelf-life, the filling in the 155mm TNT has to be thrown away. Instead of throwing away the entire TNT as we did in the past, we now dispose of the old filling, replace it with a better quality TNT and reuse the shell," explained ME5 Chia Cheow Wee, 39.

ME5 Chia is the team lead of AmmoZone 3, a group under the AmmoZone Ecosystem.

He added that the old TNT fillings are melted so that disposal is more environmentally friendly. Reusing the shells are also in line with the SAF's efforts to go green.

Through the "155 TNT Refresh Project", the SAFAC has saved about $7.6 million through the reduction of TNT procurement and disposal.

The e-flare surface tripwire allows for the addition of electronics in the 3D-printed ammunition, which sets off a flare and alarm when triggered.

Increase training realism

Another idea birthed from the AmmoZone Ecosystem was using 3D printing to create an e-flare surface tripwire, for added training realism.

In the past, drill ammunition was used for trainees to practise setting up a surface trip wire.

With 3D printing, SAFAC was able to insert electronics into the 3D-printed ammunition, allowing a flare and alarm to go off when triggered. Both the flare and alarm also sound off for about 40 seconds – just like in a real situation if the wire was tripped.

ME3 Indrarani (left) working on the e-directional fragmentation, one of the projects under the 3D-Printing Core Interest Group.

ME3 Indrarani, 38, who leads the SAFAC 3D-Printing Core Interest Group, said: "It's about attaining training realism and the soldiers welcome this. With this feedback (of the flare and alarm)…it feels more real."

The e-flare surface tripwire is currently in its pilot phase, which was implemented end-2021.

ME5 Chia is grateful for the innovation culture at SAFAC, which allows the unit to freedom to brainstorm and trial ideas.

Apart from garnering ideas from in-Service personnel, the AmmoZone Ecosystem has attracted SAFAC's Operationally Ready National Servicemen to get on board and brainstorm new innovations and improvements.

SAFAC has also partnered with the Defence Science and Technology Agency to set up the Munition Innovation and Technology Habitat. This aims to institutionalise more proactive ammunition innovations and design improvements with other defence partners.

"The AmmoZone Ecosystem has created the right culture and right innovation to thrive in our unit," said ME5 Chia.

"Innovation is another way of doing things differently, in a cost-effective manner. Most importantly, it makes doing things more efficiently so that we can use the resources saved to invest in and improve other areas of the organisation."

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