Transforming decades-old business and engineering practices takes time and bold ideas. It also takes a village, and that village came together last month at Sandia.
Participants in a day-long symposium tackled accelerated product realization — a Sandia strategic milestone — sharing concepts, accomplishments and lessons learned. The milestone is driven by national security needs as a complex combination of a dynamic geopolitical climate, parallel modernization programs and fiscal constraints all point to moving faster, saving time and resources, and greatly increasing agility without sacrificing quality.
In early 2022, Sandia leadership asked multidisciplinary teams to develop plans to implement an accelerated product realization approach, aimed at reducing the time it takes from nuclear weapon program conception to full-rate production by driving transformational business practices and engineering methods.
Associate Laboratories Director Rita Gonzales kicked off the day by thanking the teams for their dedication and collaboration and stressed that this is a Sandiawide effort.
“To become faster and more efficient, we need solutions across the Labs,” she said. “We need to challenge how we have realized product in the past and look for opportunities to improve.”
The symposium included presentations from teams on the capability areas of agile methods, digital engineering, modeling and simulation, accelerated business practices, knowledge gaps, accelerated hardware development and delivery, and weapons architecture.
Presenters shared progress ranging from software created to enable sharing lessons learned across the Labs, to mitigating roadblocks in procurement, to using modeling and simulation to provide thermal battery options three times faster than traditional methods. Each presentation allowed time for discussion with the more than 350 Sandians who attended at the Steve Schiff auditorium and those who joined online.
Moving forward in 2023, the milestone will focus more heavily on applying digital engineering tools earlier in processes to further accelerate delivery. Such tools include computer modeling, software and other digital technologies to assist in the creation, testing and analysis of engineering designs.
“We’re leveraging digital processes to minimize the risk of human error when moving across the production process,” said manager Justin Serrano. The team elaborated on what that means for Sandia’s nuclear deterrence mission and shared recent examples of how applying digital engineering practices helps reduce timelines and streamline work.
Deputy Labs Director Laura McGill reinforced the importance of faster decision-making combined with digital engineering during her address and shared tangible examples of ways leadership has leaned in to improve operations and capabilities, with plans to do even more this year.
“We need to apply modeling and simulation early in the design phase,” she said. “We have strong examples of success in conceptual design and test planning, but we still have room to grow in detailed design. Until we have our component design community writing requirements for modeling and simulation developers that support earlier design decisions, we’re not taking full advantage of these technologies.”
Laura spoke about initiatives that are enabling Sandia to deliver products faster, including Technical Expert Networks, where Sandia’s top experts in technical domains provide a framework to resolve roadblocks faster.
“We’ve made great progress here, with our partners at other labs, NNSA, and across the NSE (nuclear security enterprise),” she said. “I believe we still need to work on our risk tolerance and developing modular component and test architectures so that we’re all aligned on the path forward.”
Call to action
A common theme for the day was that it “takes all of us” and teams asked for support from the audience. Advanced Systems and Transformation Director Ernie Wilson closed the event via video.
“We need leaders thinking about opportunities in both new and existing work to increase the pace of delivery — whether it’s in Human Resources, Supply Chain, Facilities, Security or across the national security missions,” he said. “We’re built for hard problems at Sandia.”
Sandians interested in learning more about these efforts should contact DigEng_APR@sandia.gov or visit the symposium webpage.