• New Picatinny IDEA Program Fosters Innovation for Future Army Technology

    While reading a ski magazine in 2008, Penn State University engineering student Adam Druga had a flash of inspiration that set him on a path he called “absolutely adventurous.” But it was no snow trail.

    Druga’s path has been that of an inventor.

    Picatinny engineer Adam Druga is one of many inventors on the arsenal who use the IDEA program to bring ideas for Army technology to fruition. (U.S. Army photo by Todd Mozes.)

    Druga was reading about a new material being used to protect skiers when he fashioned his idea: to combine the new material with another in just the right way and so produce a lightweight yet flexible material that could protect Soldiers from bullets and shrapnel.

    Now a mechanical engineer working on a team that designs gun mounts at the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ, Druga has discovered the truth behind the words of the iconic American inventor Thomas A. Edison: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

    The perspiration on Druga’s brow is relieved by the encouragement, training, and hands-on support from an initiative aimed at harvesting the inventive potential in the ARDEC workforce.

    Called IDEA, for Innovative Developments Everyday at ARDEC, the initiative also aims to help ARDEC remain competitive with the best, most innovative labs in government and industry, according to Andrei Cernasov, one of the architects of the IDEA program.

    It all began as a strategic initiative in 2007 after Barbara Machak, now Executive Director of the ARDEC Enterprise and System Engineering Integration Center, commissioned a study that recommended ways to support innovation within ARDEC.

    “We had over 2,000 people solving problems or gaps in warfighter capabilities, meeting requirements, but I didn’t get a sense that they all had an avenue to have their ideas and innovations heard,” Machak said.

    “Some who were truly innovators seemed to be able to push through and get programs started and provide a capability to ARDEC through sheer will. They just didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” she observed. “I wanted to have more of that and allow those voices to be heard.”

    Advice and Collaboration

    The primary components of the program include IDEA Catalysts, who support inventors directly by dispensing advice and arranging collaboration as they strive to build projects; IDEA Champions, who work with catalysts, guiding the ongoing implementation and overseeing various aspects of the initiative; and IDEA Hubs, locations for experimentation, research, collaboration, and inspiration.

    Rather than having to learn how to test an idea, Druga said the IDEA program allowed him to learn from people who conducted tests frequently.

    Rather than having to learn how to test an idea, Druga said the IDEA program allowed him to learn from people who conducted tests frequently.

    Still, Druga works on his innovations mostly at nights and on weekends. Although he can meet with innovation contacts during office hours, his primary responsibilities during duty hours are to his regular job.

    Druga estimates that $2,000 from a sponsor would be required to perform initial developmental engineering tests, which would prove, disprove, or propel his design toward further improvements.

    To improve his case before a sponsor, Druga worked with another IDEA Catalyst, Doug Chesnulovitch, who said that he helps the IDEA “generators” (inventors) to understand that the Army wants “deliverables with quantifiable gains.”

    “They always ask for three things,” said Chesnulovitch. “Does it offer operational improvement or make the Soldier more effective? Is it ‘technically sound’ so that it will perform in field conditions? Is it better and more cost effective than what currently exists?”

    The Power of Patents

    While he said he is not personally interested in obtaining a patent, Druga explained that a patent can be critical to move a project forward, which ultimately could mean better equipment for Soldiers.

    Does it offer operational improvement or make the Soldier more effective? Is it ‘technically sound’ so that it will perform in field conditions? Is it better and more cost effective than what currently exists?

    Private industry is very aggressive in inventing things and obtaining patents, Cernasov explained. With a patent, vendors have substantial leverage in determining prices.

    Sometimes, those patents were solutions to challenges the Army posed to industry.

    Whether or not his project is a success, Druga said he has gained valuable experience and contacts. “I’ve met more people in the last few months than many people have met in ten years here. I love to meet new people. It’s not an opportunity that you get just by sitting behind your desk.”


    • Article courtesy of Picatinny Arsenal Public Affairs Office

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