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Innovation meets excellence

The grand opening of the Kadena Innovation Lab was held at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 12, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Aaron Bignault, left, 18th Wing chief of Wing Innovations, and U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tomas Landaverde, right, 18th Wing NCO in charge of Wing Innovations, pose outside the Kadena Innovation Lab at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 11, 2021. The goal of the Kadena Innovation Lab is to create a culture of Airmen-driven innovation, enabling Airmen to solve everyday problems and advance capabilities in support of the mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Anna Nolte)

The grand opening of the Kadena Innovation Lab was held at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 12, 2021.

A U.S. Air Force Airman introduces the speakers at the grand opening ceremony of the Kadena Innovation Lab at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 12, 2021. The Kadena Innovation Lab was created to be a place of collaboration and development, offering expertise and equipment to service members who recognize areas needing improvement. (U.S. Air Force photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Troy French)

The grand opening of the Kadena Innovation Lab was held at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 12, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Col. Martin Weeks, left, 353rd Special Operations Group deputy commander, Chief Master Sgt. Jake Fason, middle, 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron chief enlisted manager, and Tech. Sgt. Michael Wilson, right, 353rd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron section chief of Dash21/SIPO, examine 3D printed tool trays at the grand opening of the Kadena Innovation Lab at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 12, 2021. The 3D printer is just one of the technologies available at the Kadena Innovation Lab, as well as computers for software development and a laser etcher for large products. (U.S. Air Force photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Troy French)

The grand opening of the Kadena Innovation Lab was held at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 12, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Col. George Vogel, left, outbound 18th Wing vice commander, U.S. Air Force Col. Martin Weeks, middle, 353rd Special Operations Group deputy commander, and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Aaron Bignault, right, 18th Wing chief of Wing Innovations, pose for the ribbon-cutting portion of the Kadena Innovation Lab grand opening at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 12, 2021. From conception to reality, the Kadena Innovation Lab was established and opened within a year. (U.S. Air Force photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Troy French)

The grand opening of the Kadena Innovation Lab was held at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 12, 2021.

U.S. Air Force Col. Ronald Schochenmaier, inbound 18th Wing vice commander, tests virtual reality at the grand opening of the Kadena Innovation Lab at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 12, 2021. Augmented reality, such as VR, has the capability to simulate a variety of realistic training scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Troy French)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --

The grand opening of the Kadena Innovation Lab, a groundbreaking workspace equipped with cutting edge technology and a network of subject matter experts, was held at Kadena Air Base, Japan, May 12, 2021.

It’s the frustrated Airman, someone who sees a problem in their work center and wants to create change, that the new lab is looking to tap into and empower to find a better way to accomplish the mission, said Tech. Sgt. Tomas Landaverde, the 18th Wing NCO in charge of Wing Innovations.

Constant advancement is required to remain superior in air and cyberspace, and the Kadena Innovation Lab is designed to provide the resources for service members at Kadena to turn their ideas into reality, improving how the Air Force accomplishes the mission.

“The Kadena Innovation Lab is a place for people to come and collaborate, to learn and to innovate,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Bignault, the 18th Wing chief of Wing Innovations. “It gives us an opportunity to fix problems, but also to advance capabilities so we can do our mission more efficiently and effectively.”

Some of the learning opportunities the lab presents are classes and training on subjects such as continuous process improvement, 3D printing, software development and introductory robotics. If those topics don’t spark interest, service members can also gain access to a variety of online courses. For the hands-on learner, equipment at the lab varies from 3D printers for developing prototypes, to computers for creating new software programs.

While access to equipment and training is one way the Kadena Innovation Lab can make an impact, the actual building might also play a part in encouraging progress within Team Kadena and the Air Force.

Having a physical, concrete space to come and troubleshoot a problem is an invaluable asset, Landaverde explained. Service members on Kadena now have a place to work on their projects and interact with members from across the base; the lab invites collaboration and encourages getting different perspectives that can help individuals think outside the box.

“Whatever you need, we will try to provide for you. We are trying to empower Airmen to solve problems without needing to have a ton of knowledge,” Landaverde said. “They can essentially come here and find a SME on what they’re trying to do, or if they’re trying to 3D print something, they can find somebody that can design it for them.”

In the upcoming months the lab also plans to host a monthly Innovation Café event, where problems can be presented and individuals can brainstorm solutions over coffee.

The creation and opening of the Kadena Innovation Lab itself was something of a collaboration, with the team receiving help from across Kadena and other branches of service, Landaverde explained.

“People believe in what we’re trying to do. I think that’s why people are getting behind us … they see the potential of what they can do, what is possible,” he said. “The lab will be a place where they can come to get help, to find people that can help them fix the frustrations in their day-to-day job. If you have a problem, we can find somebody that has the experience; it’ll make a huge difference in your life and your job.”