Green Tech & Anti-Counterfeiting Efforts at Mines Aid Military

Mike Tomac, PhD student at South Dakota School of Mining & Technology, stands near a small-scale K-Span structure used to test the viability of adapting off-the-shelf solar technology to deployable structures for the Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. (Courtesy Photo)

Whether it’s ensuring that service men and women have hot water on deployments or preventing the distribution of dangerous counterfeit products, research developed at South Dakota of Mines & Technology - and strengthened through partnerships with the United States Air Force - is changing the future.   

In hot water

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center and SD Mines have focused efforts on bringing off-the-grid electricity and hot water to difficult deployment locations around the world. The research work is led by Ph.D. candidate Mike Tomac, Chemical and Biological Engineering professor David Dixon, Ph.D., and former Mines faculty member Butch Skillman.

Using equipment originally designed to heat residential pools, the project entails deploying kit-ready solar panels and water heating systems that could provide both 

Currently, structures that provide electricity and hot water during deployments are installed on an expeditionary electrical grid and serve as command centers, mess halls, maintenance facilities and more. The structures require fuel, which must be transported to deployment locations in convoys. Those fuel transports often travel through dangerous territory, putting the service men and women in the convoys in danger.

The solar panels and heating systems change all of that, providing renewable systems that reduce the dependency on transported fuel.

Tomac proposed the project as part of his master’s thesis at SD Mines, working alongside Dixon and Skillman. SD Mines took the proposal to the United State Air Force, where it was granted funding through an existing contract partnership with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.

“The most exciting part of this partnership is the ability to apply existing technology in an innovative way for the Air Force,” Tomac said. “Working with the Air Force helped tailor my education and gave me a focus on innovation and implementation of projects in real environment. It brought this applied project to life.” SD Mines master’s student Shannon Morse is also using the project for her thesis.

Projects such as these foster partnerships between the Air Force and academia to encourage innovation around “off-the-shelf tech” that creates and develops deployable solutions for service members while saving the government money. Tim Dodge, deputy director of Air Force Civil Engineer Center, says “Partnerships with academic institutions around the country give the Air Force access to great minds and fresh perspectives. Harvesting skills, knowledge and abilities of students and faculty from around the country can ultimately benefit the warfighter downrange.”  

Keeping it real

A Rapid City-based company using anti-counterfeit technology developed at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is making its mark thanks to an U.S. Air Force initiative aimed at fostering innovation.

SecureMarking is one of 10 companies chosen to participate in the Techstars Autonomous Technology Accelerator. The Accelerator program is part of AFWERX, an U.S. Air Force initiative with a goal of cultivating innovation within the service. The Accelerator program is designed for commercially viable startups with dual-purpose technologies – private sector and a government application. The initiative focuses on helping start-ups become more successful.

The core technology used by SecureMarking is based on research performed by the Center for Security Printing and Anti-Counterfeiting Technology (SPACT), in collaboration with SD Mines and the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.

Secure Marking aims to root out counterfeit parts in the aviation industry by making a nanoparticle-based “ink” to label parts, which can only be illuminated with an infrared laser. Once labeled, parts can be tracked by a system of connected devices and blockchain-based software. “Most people take supply chain security for granted,” said Daniel Stanton, president of SecureMarking. “But counterfeit products are more common than we realize and can have serious consequences.”

“We’re excited about the dual-use opportunities for this technology,” says Warren Katz, Managing Director of the Techstars Autonomous Accelerator. “SecureMarking’s novel approach to marking and tracking parts could enable a new generation of solutions for industries such as aerospace, pharmaceuticals and automotive manufacturing.”

As part of the Techstars program, the leadership team from SecureMarking will spend 13 weeks in Boston beginning in February focused on building the company. They will collaborate with other co-founders and participate in more than 100 meetings with investors and potential customers.

“Our team is excited about this opportunity to refine our technology platform and position our company so that we can help supply chain managers around the world protect customers, and brands, by securely tracking their products,” said Stanton.

Both research partnerships demonstrate the strong and ongoing collaborations between SD Mines and the United States Air Force, partnerships designed to cultivate innovative research and development benefiting the military, private industry and society as a whole.

Toward this end, several faculty members as well as SD Mines Vice President of Research Jan Puszynski, Ph.D., will be attending an innovation workshop at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in March. The workshop is designed to partner external ideas with United States Air Force resources.

“In a world where far more innovation is happening outside the government than inside it, connecting to the broader scientific enterprise is vital,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, who is the former president of SD Mines.

Last edited 4/26/2018 1:39:48 PM

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