NEWS | June 30, 2021

Joint Base Charleston innovation lab looks to further innovation with automated processes

By Staff Sgt. Christian Sullivan Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Joint Base Charleston’s innovation lab, Palmetto Spark, worked with Air Force mission partners to create new automated processes to help not only Team Charleston, but the entire military.

Innovative minds gathered during the June 21st-25th event to learn about robotic process automation (RPA) and how Airmen at Joint Base Charleston can leverage this emerging DoD capability to get after the Chief of Staff’s call to Accelerate Change.

“We’re doing two big picture things this week,” said Capt. Christian Brechbuhl, Joint Base Charleston director of innovation. “One is training our Airmen on making these automations and the second is providing them with their first scaling test by seeing how we take these ideas from one computer in one unit to available across the Air Force.”

Airmen from the U.S. Space Force, the Air Force RPA Center of Excellence at PEO-Business Enterprise Systems, other Air Force bases and RPA vendors came to help collaborate and provide a prototype for department wide implementation.

One of those Airmen was Master Sgt. Madeline Herbst, 927th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft maintainer from MacDill AFB, Fla., who created an RPA bot and wanted to spread her knowledge on how to help create more innovative processes.

“My focus this week is tailoring these programs so they work within the AMC blueprint and determining other maintenance and quality assurance processes can be automated at Charleston AFB” said Herbst.

After talking with Airmen from different units here she focused on finding ways to prevent losing man hours where the effort is not worth the return

“If you’re cutting off all those administrative tasks,” said Herbst. “We give back Airmen time to work on their mission readiness and career field proficiency while empowering them to make an active change in their day to day.”

These processes can help with tasks all the way from flattening PDF files to filing and sharing technical orders with maintainers downrange.

“Something like this allows us to add a level of automation without modifying our legacy systems,” said Brechbuhl. “So we aren’t having to spend more money, but still innovating it to make it easier and better on our Airmen.”

Dedicating time to creating these bots will allow Airmen to focus on their mission readiness and proficiency in their career field rather than administrative tasks, said Brechbuhl.

“As we look to modernize our infrastructure in the Air Force and prepare for adversaries we need more programs like this,” said Brechbuhl. “Because at the end of the day we don’t put a uniform and stripes on an Airman’s chest for them to do data entry and not their job.”

On the final day of the week’s events the innovation lab pitched ideas and processes to leadership on a way forward.

“I’m very excited about what this can do,” said Col. Robert Lankford, 437th Airlift Wing commander. “This is what right looks like.”

After the week’s events Brechbuhl emphasized just how important the innovation lab’s job here is.

“We don’t do innovation for innovation’s sake,” said Brechbuhl. “We do innovation to enable Airmen to get after what Team America needs us to do.”

Airmen from JB Charleston who wish to learn more and leverage RPA for their unit should reach out to Palmetto.Spark@afwerx.af.mil. Airmen and Guardians from across the DAF who are interested should reach out to the DAF RPA Center of Excellence at AFLCMC.HI.AFRPAChallenge@us.af.mil.