By Clifford Davis
Fleet Readiness Center
Southeast Public Affairs
A trio of triumphs by a team of Fleet Readiness Center Southeast scientists and engineers has earned them a trip to the Pentagon, where they will be presented with the Dr. Delores M. Etter Top Scientists and Engineers Award for 2016 next month.
The team saw the culmination of years of hard work in 2016 that will result in better quality products being delivered to warfighters more quickly.
"The award is for the group category, so I think it symbolizes how well we all work together," Lead Materials Engineer Jack Benfer said. "We really stress and challenge the team to work as a group and not as individuals, because we're more effective that way."
The award, established in 2006 in honor of the former Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisitions), is bestowed to the Navy's top scientists and engineers for outstanding achievements in their fields.
The award recognizes the group of five, including Benfer, Senior Chemist Ruben Prado, Engineer Technician Rodney Williamson, Materials Engineer Peter Sheridan and Chemical Engineer Luzmarie Youngers, for three outstanding achievements in 2016.
The first accomplishment to be implemented was a new chemical milling line. For many aircraft parts, removing material with chemicals instead of traditional mechanical milling is faster and more precise.
"Before we had the chemical milling capability, many components couldn't be fabricated here at the plant," Benfer said.
"They had to go to outside sources with a lengthy turnaround time.
"Now with chemical milling we're able to get that work performed here, and get it completed much faster."
Chemical milling "eats" away metal until the affected areas reach a desired thickness. However, two of the team's biggest accomplishments were in new ways to prevent the environment from doing the same thing through corrosion.
"With our new anodize line, we're going to see a three-fold improvement in corrosion resistance," Prado said. "That means a more durable metal for the guys out flying and maintaining these aircraft."
Though the new anodizing process will better protect aircraft aluminum, the process was sparked 12 years ago by a quest to find an alternative to the hazardous materials involved with the old process.
"This all began by looking for environmental benefits," Prado said.
"We're always looking for ways to eliminate any processes that use harmful materials, and it really paid off this time."
Third and finally, the team also introduced a new zinc-nickel plating line for steel aircraft components.
The "active" coating works by releasing electrons in the event a steel part is scratched or nicked, to keep the component from corroding.
Parts outfitted with the new coating are currently deployed on a Navy aircraft carrier to confirm its durability.
"We think that, not only will it be safer than cadmium plating, it will also be more durable," Prado said.
Chemical milling, advanced anodizing and zinc-nickel plating will not only benefit FRCSE. The work done here can now be used to benefit commands across the Navy.
Benfer said the team has been effective because of its alignment with the needs of the fleet: improving the availability of aircraft and components, and delivering them with greater speed.
"We're aligning our goals with the top priorities that NAVAIR has expressed to us through policies and command initiatives - we focus the team on those," he said.