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Issue 1 2018 Defence
The end result is nothing like any other Australian
naval facility – a bright, vibrant open-plan space,
containing a workshop, computer lab and meeting
Don and the Directorate of Navy Continuous
Innovation Project Manager, Commander Steve
Thompson, are the only full-time staff, although they
are joined by BAE and Thales contractors as well as
sailors, when they are working on problems.
Importantly, the centre is a “rank-free zone”,
allowing even the most junior sailors the opportunity
to plan and design new ideas.
Ultimately, the centre comes under the Directorate
of Navy Continuous Innovation which helped bring
the projects out of the design phase and into produc-
“All of a sudden, young sailors have somewhere
they can bring their problems and find a solution in
an environment where there are no boundaries to
innovation,” Steve says.
“Our job is to grab those ideas and take them as
far as they will go, whether that means something
they can fix immediately on a ship, or it involves
more than one ship.
“We help to take the ideas through to fruition, to
see if they have value to Navy, Defence or the coun-
try, and help innovation to occur.”
Although Steve is used to thinking about strate-
gic-level problems, Don says the main aim is to help
individuals fix problems in their workplace – whether
that be an office or a ship.
“The people who walk through our door are usual-
ly individuals who have spotted something on a ship,
or identified something in their workplace and say ‘I
think we can do that better’,” Don says.
“One person, after learning computer-aided design
and holding the physical representation of an idea in
their hand, told me it felt like they had a new super-
“It really stuck in my head – the person was so
excited, but they’d also cleared the fuzz between an
idea in their head and having a physical, functional
“That sort of attitude bleeds across into Navy’s
“THE PEOPLE WHO WALK
THROUGH OUR DOOR ARE
USUALLY INDIVIDUALS WHO
HAVE SPOTTED SOMETHING
ON A SHIP, OR IDENTIFIED
SOMETHING IN THEIR
WORKPLACE AND SAY ‘I THINK
WE CAN DO THAT BETTER’.”
MANAGER, FLEET BASE EAST
CENTRE FOR INNOVATION
Petty Officer Matt
a virtual reality
as an electronic
is tested (right)
at the innovation
culture and encourages innovation, so people can
look at their business processes and look for efficien-
cies in how they do business.”
The centre is only one part of the puzzle – they’re
a part of a wider Navy community that specialises in
The Directorate of Navy Continuous Innovation
is responsible for maintaining an overview of every
innovation project occurring across the Service,
as well as providing advice for people looking to
improve their own workplace.
“Defence is so big that it’s near impossible for
someone with an idea to communicate with, or even
be aware of, someone else in the organisation who
has the same problem,” Don says.
“One of the functions of Navy innovation is to try
and bridge those gaps. They have the visibility across
the organisation to let them know a similar thing has
been solved in another area, then link the two to see if
the same solution applies.
“Stove-pipes are one barrier to innovation, man-
agement is another classic example. Businesses have
objectives and KPIs, so it’s human nature for man-
agement to tell someone to focus on the issue of the
day, rather than improvements.
“Culture is another, although by existing, the
centre influences the culture to reduce fear of failing,
bring about an appetite for new ideas and take an
approach to risk management which includes the risk
of lost opportunities.”
Although the idea came from the rapid design and
prototyping opportunities offered by 3D printing, the
centre also has facilities to produce textile, electronic
and virtual prototypes.
Don has seen projects ranging from discreet pock-
ets to fitting knee-pads into a uniform, to a compact
underwater propulsion device.
“When we do a tour of the centre, we usually do
a virtual reality demonstration using an Oculus Rift,
but we also take visitors through out textile worksta-
tion,” Don says.
“Innovation doesn’t have to be sexy – it can be
very conventional fabrication tools, or even just help-
ing someone with an idea.”
u More information about the Fleet Base East Centre
for Innovation, can be found on the intranet at
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