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DDPS innovation environments - from theory to practice

Several pilot projects were carried out shortly after the DDPS innovation environments were commissioned by the Head of Department, Viola Amherd. Here, the first successes were achieved in line with the goals defined in the DDPS innovation environments. In this article, we would like to introduce you to the projects and the paths they have taken.

Anela Ziko, Specialised Service Innovation and Processes,
Competence Domain Science and Technology

Scientists standing in front of a whiteboard in a darkened room
© Midjourney, Urs Böniger

The choice of a suitable innovation environment is based on various criteria. It is dependent on the challenge, the degree of maturity of the available solutions, as well as the desired solution. The customer plays a key role here and is involved in the entire process from start to finish, including utilisation and dissemination of the results. This should ensure that the challenge is correctly understood, a solution is developed that meets the needs and the findings are sustainably incorporated into the organisation of the customer.

In the last two articles on the topic of “Innovation” in the Insights series, we got to know about the genesis of the DDPS innovation environments and their implementation. These environments are not physical spaces but are procedures which are used to find solutions for identified challenges in the DDPS. Which innovation environment is used depends on the extent to which a solution to meet the need is known and the need coverage confirmed. Based on the very different degrees of maturity of solutions and the uncertainties involved, even successful utilisation can take different forms. On the one hand, this can mean that a solution identified by means of an innovation environment can be transformed into a procurement, but on the other hand, it might mean that the need cannot be covered by today’s technologies and solutions. In this case, it is of key importance that the findings are disseminated and that, for example, the technological developments that are lacking are pursued, or that a specific research project is launched. One important aspect of the success is that the findings obtained are always incorporated into further development – be this in the form of a procurement, further observation of the technological developments on the (international) markets or in the adjustment of planning principles.

Time synchronisation in the command and control network

With an increasing number of distributed sensors and their networking, the availability of a secure and precise time base also gains in importance. But what does “precise” actually mean? In everyday life, a small deviation in time can go unnoticed, but with complex sensor systems it can be tantamount to an eternity. armasuisse Science and Technology (S+T) is testing a solution for the most accurate time synchronisation possible: White Rabbit. This should enable a more robust and more precise independent synchronisation than is possible using other methods. In many cases, time signals from satellite navigation systems such as the Global Positioning System GPS are used today for this purpose. In these systems, the time is determined together with the location. This enables a GPS receiver to have a time that is always accurate to a few billionths of a second which it can provide to other systems. However, it is well known that such systems are very susceptible to radio interference and constitute major dependency on the operators of these satellite navigation systems.

armasuisse S+T carried out the first tests with the College of Engineering and Architecture in Fribourg. A network topology was set up in a laboratory structure, as it would occur with several nodes in a typical, nationwide operation in Switzerland. Components could thus be exchanged individually and their influence on accuracy tested. Following these investigations, cooperations took place with researchers from the Federal Institute of Metrology METAS and the university network operator Switch. Together, they worked on a test setup within the Switch network. The findings obtained are now to be utilised for implementing White Rabbit in the Swiss command and control network, so that the Armed Forces’ sensor systems can use a secure, independent time base in the future. As it was possible to build on an existing solution in this case and the aim was to test its suitability, the innovation environment here was the “test run”.

Acoustic analysis of ballistic protective plates

Ballistic protective plates constitute an important element for the personal security of the Swiss Armed Forces. These are ceramic plates for the highest protection classes, which can experience a reduction in the intrinsic protective effect due to external influences, in addition to the actual ballistic impact, such as handling. Just dropping a plate can lead to fractures which considerably reduce ballistic protection, even if the defect is invisible to the naked eye. To ensure the safety of members of the Armed Forces, it is important to have a test procedure with which the condition of the protective plates can be assessed reliably and quickly.

The condition of ceramic protective plates is usually assessed using x-ray images: damage to the plate, such as cracks, appear in high contrast on the x-ray, while they often remain invisible during inspection with the naked eye. And depending on the alignment, position and size, a break can be difficult to recognise on an x-ray image. For these reasons, an alternative method of inspection is required. Based on a project within the policy research, an innovative procedure has been developed at armasuisse S+T to check the quality of protective plates. Together with the School of Engineering Haute Ecole Arc in Le Locle, armasuisse S+T examined an acoustic procedure which aims to simplify and accelerate the process of testing ceramic protective plates. The principle is based on making the plate vibrate. The vibrations induced are related to the inner forces in the plate. Defects such as cracks can change these, which can be detected acoustically. Analysis of the acoustic signals thus allows defective protective plates to be rapidly identified, as in most cases these change the acoustic signature of a protective plate. However, the sensitivity of the method should be examined more closely. After a demonstrator had been developed as part of a research assignment, the aim was to examine the suitability in the operative environment of the customer. In this context, further demonstrators were procured and conceded to the AFLO for test purposes as part of a “test run”.

Based on the collected findings, utilisation has now been initiated in the form of a procurement project. It is the first innovation project that has now been transformed into a procurement.

Building on external competences: Sandbox serial number

The Armed Forces Logistics Centre Thun (ALC-H) is responsible for storing personal weapons all over Switzerland. Before storage, the three serial numbers on each weapon are checked and entered manually. This work is very monotonous and tiring. The need with which the AFLO approached armasuisse S+T was to automate the reading, checking and recording of the serial numbers on the weapons, which is currently performed manually. Based on the fact that the efficient and automated recording of numbers of different types constitutes a key component of process optimisation in other branches of industry, the question lends itself to transfer innovation. The goal of the sandbox is thus to test existing solution approaches open to technology and already established in other branches of industry. The focus is not on the products here, but on the technologies and solution approaches that are in use. The challenge is that the serial numbers are engraved in metal and show various signs of wear and tear as well as different fat contents. As part of a sandbox, a suitable solution is to be found for the need. The solution providers, in other words, industries, are invited to participate by means of a public tender on simap. The actual participants are selected based on predefined assessment criteria which is contained in the tender documents. During the sandbox, the solutions are then examined and assessed in the actual environment with representative tests in terms of their suitability. The aim is to analyse technologies rather than products and to identify solution approaches. After the sandbox is completed, the participants are each provided with an observation report and the internal utilisation of the findings initiated.

These topical examples aim to illustrate how the innovation environments can be used for finding solutions. They illustrate that “successful” can mean many things – from knowledge gained to the implementation of the solution obtained as part of a procurement.

You can find out in the next article how armasuisse S+T networks internationally in the area of innovation and which challenges, as well as which opportunities, exist for the location Switzerland.