For as long as he could remember, Mechanical Group (Code 930) Nuclear Continuous Training and Development (CTD) Coordinator Kyle Cooper has been told that he thinks differently than other people – constantly pursuing a way to improve a process instead of sticking with the same ways defined in the past. As one of the forward thinkers working 3-D printing at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY), Cooper strives to help others and help lead the shipyard into the future.
Cooper’s journey at NNSY began Sept. 23, 2013 after working diesel engines outside the gates. “When I initially came to the shipyard, I came to work on the waterfront and work with my hands,” said Cooper. His first job was working nightshift shafting onboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) before being transferred in the diesel shop. “I wanted to be in the diesel shop and work on diesel engines because I knew that was something I enjoyed. However, I found that it wasn’t what I expected and I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing. I get bored easily which is why it was so hard for me to stay in one job for a long time. So if I was on a job that wasn’t challenging me at all, it wasn’t fun and wasn’t something I wanted. So I sought a change.”
Cooper then was steam plant qualified and worked in cleanliness until he was accepted in the nuclear program. He joined Special Emphasis Group (Code 361) to perform special attention work. “I really liked it in Code 361 because we were always working on and learning something new and inventive. There wasn’t a time I wasn’t having fun with what I was doing.”
Unfortunately, Cooper suffered a back injury during his time in the program, requiring two surgeries with one being a spinal fusion. With such an injury at a young age, Cooper was at a crossroads on which path he should take for his career. He made the call to join in the CTD program to aid in the development of the workforce. Although he was fond of helping others, he didn’t find training individuals to be something he enjoyed as it wasn’t something fast-paced that challenged him in his day-to-day. Therefore, he continued to look for something new.
An opportunity came when Code 361 brought Cooper along to a trades show where he quickly found his calling. If he couldn’t work on the waterfront himself, Cooper wanted to be able to help the others who could – which meant he could help them gain tools at their disposal to aid them in their work. Cooper brought back different tools for the shipyard during the trades show with the Ultimaker S5 3-D printer being one of them and soon was off to the races finding new technologies he could bring back to the workforce. Before long, he was stationed in the Code 930 Nuclear 3-D printing lab, working to 3-D print prototypes and models for those that requested it.
“I always felt like I would get stuck in a rut coming up in my career or I would hit too many impassable roadblocks, making it hard to continue down the path that I was on. But with 3-D printing, I feel like I’ve been given a chance to not only steer away from those roadblocks and forge a new path, but I’ve also found something I thoroughly enjoy that can help my shipyard in surging forward towards the future,” said Cooper. “There’s a culture where we’ve been doing the same thing over and over again for years because the processes are set in stone and we know they work. But now we can build these processes and procedures from the ground up using the new equipment and tooling and make changes to best benefit the fleet and the employees doing the job every day. Even if it’s small changes, little by little, the smallest change can have the greatest impact further down the line. So that’s what I want to bring to the table.”
Cooper shared that before taking this position in the printing lab, he had little experience with 3-D printing – that didn’t stop him from surging forward to learn. “I’ve always enjoyed going to school and learning new things,” he said. “I had some engineering experience with my schooling but I hadn’t finishing my degree at the time. Nevertheless I took on the challenge and began searching the internet for everything I could to learn the program, the printers, etc. There’s a ton of material out there for those interested in learning. I also had folks here at the shipyard, including Joel and Adam Seamster along with Timothy Edmondson (T.R.), who I’ve been in collaboration with on the topic of 3-D printing.”
One of Cooper’s visions at the shipyard is to bring 3-D printers to each department, providing everyone with the tools they need to succeed. “I will print whatever anyone brings me and work with them to make the product they want,” he said. “I’ve also been working with shops and codes to get their own printers installed in their spaces, finding what printers and materials work best with what they need. That way folks are able to take the technology into their own hands and use it to benefit their needs without having to wait on others. This gives everyone a sense of ownership of what they are doing, plus expands our pool of knowledge we can pull from. If folks have questions, they are welcome to reach out to myself or any of the other 3-D printing POCs across the shipyard so we can help and learn from one another. We can all be forward thinkers!”
Cooper was nominated for this month’s shipyard spotlight story by the Norfolk Innovation Program to recognize his innovative spirit and active involvement in the Additive Manufacturing (3-D Printing) Subcommittee within the NNSY Technology & Innovation Community of Practice (T&I CoP) which is comprised of representatives from AM Labs across the shipyard. It is innovators like Cooper who push boundaries to implement everyday process improvements to support the mission here at America’s shipyard.