Y-12 Blog

Posted: Wednesday, January 5, 2022 - 7:53am

Pantexan Edward Graef
Pantexan Edward Graef and Y-12er Matthew Willard (not pictured) are part of the Sandia Weapon Intern Program, Class of 2022.

Two CNS employees are joining the ranks of the prestigious Sandia Weapon Intern Program (WIP) for the class of 2022. Edward Graef, Pantex physics senior specialist, and Matthew Willard, Y-12 process engineer, began the program in 2021.

Both Graef and Willard were excited about the program, saying it is considered by many within the Nuclear Security Enterprise to be a “once in a career” opportunity.

“I have had the opportunity to meet and work with so many other capable people at Pantex that it was humbling to know I was selected from among them for this opportunity,” Graef said.

“I was both humbled and excited about the opportunity,” Willard said. “It also comes with the realization that I am a representative of all of us here at Y-12.”

WIP was created by Sandia National Laboratories as a formal mechanism to pass decades of knowledge down to the next generation of scientists, engineers, and leaders. The year long program begins with classroom work and learning in the first six months, along with site visits, and research assignments. During the final months, participants are embedded in various organizations across Sandia to work on specific projects.

Both CNS participants were looking forward to learning from and working with other WIP interns and mentors from across the NSE.

“The collaborations will further expand my technical and leadership capabilities to better address our stewardship missions,” said Graef.

“One topic that I look forward to learning the most is about the lifecycle of the weapon systems,” Willard said. “Specifically, how DoD requirements turn into designs, those designs eventually become physical systems, and how those physical systems are assessed and certified throughout their lifetime so that they will function as intended if ever needed to.”

Over the course of the program, the interns will learn skills and knowledge that they’ll be able to bring back to their teams at Pantex and Y-12.

“I want to bring back a more refined set of communication skills and a better understanding of the NSE's needs for our evolving role in stockpile stewardship and safety,” Graef said. “For Pantex as a whole, I want to bring back clearer goals to advance our modeling and simulation-based engineering approaches to help address plant needs while also improving the safety and security of our workforce and the stockpile.”

Willard looks forward to the benefits of knowledge and professional relationships he will build. “Increased knowledge helps in understanding the ‘why’ when we may be asked to do things a certain way, that may be different from what we are used to being asked to do by our customers, and those relationships provide lines of communication throughout the NSE as we all continue our careers.”

Posted: Wednesday, January 5, 2022 - 7:45am

New employees learn about the opportunities offered at Pantex and Y-12
During a September Pantex onboarding session, new employees learn about the opportunities offered at Pantex and Y-12 and how all employees play a vital role in meeting the mission.

In new employee orientations, incoming Pantexans and Y-12ers are greeted with a simple, but vital message: Every single employee’s contributions are integral to securing the mission of national security. The mission is so important that one of the top priorities of the National Nuclear Security Administration is to continue building the workforce of the future.

Despite the ongoing global pandemic, CNS was able to surpass its hiring goal in FY 2021 due to innovative efforts by human resources, recruitment, hiring managers, and financial analysts. The goal for FY 2021 was to hire 1,277 CNS employees. Between Pantex and Y-12, 1,353 external hires were made.

How has the hiring process evolved?
While requisitions have continued to increase in the last 5 years, the new hiring process at CNS has made a significant difference in recruiting and onboarding top talent this past fiscal year. In 2019, the Human Resources Business Partnerships organization was created, which brought hiring managers, human resources, and financial personnel to the same table to proactively discuss hiring needs for each upcoming fiscal year.

“This new process dramatically changed how we approached hiring and recruitment within CNS,” said Amy Moran, HR strategy and operations director. “Instead of being reactionary, we are having proactive conversations with each organization to determine personnel needs and make sure hiring aligns with funding.”

Groups meet monthly to review metrics to determine whether hiring benchmarks are being met and, if not, what actions need to be taken to meet those benchmarks. The metrics include new hire data, terminations, attrition rates, and internal transfers. The system also takes into account the length of time it takes to recruit new employees, including security clearance time and onboarding training.

“Using the metrics gives us a springboard for conversation and a way to routinely measure if we are meeting our quarterly goals. There have been instances that being able to review this data together has helped us prevent personnel shortages when the unexpected happens,” said Heather Freeman, HR business partnerships director. “We’re able to pivot more quickly and update recruitment strategies in order to make sure our organizations have the resources they need.”

How are we recruiting new employees?
In the past, CNS often relied on in person job fairs, its career listing page, and recruiters reaching out to some potential candidates. Over the last fiscal year, recruitment for the next generation of nuclear security professionals has more aggressively moved to the digital space.

“We have made intense efforts on building our digital brand to recruit top talent for CNS,” said Amanda Hurley, recruitment and placement senior manager. “We’re using proactive recruiters, LinkedIn and Indeed’s recruitment tools, and applicant data tracking databases. Instead of waiting for top hires to find us, we are seeking them out.”

The most visible changes to our recruitment efforts can be found on the Pantex and Y-12 Careers sites, which were created through a partnership with a subcontractor.

How is this affecting CNS organizations?
A group that has seen a significant increase in hiring over the past few years is Y-12 Infrastructure. The organization holds nearly 1,100 employees, with more than 100 hires needed each year. Y-12 Infrastructure has had a dramatic increase in workload along with a heavy retirement wave. Andy Huff, Y-12 Infrastructure deputy manager, shared that the new hiring and recruitment process has made quite a difference for the organization — so much so that they have already met their hiring headcount for FY 2022.

“This new hiring process really comes down to a simple concept: speaking a common language. Human Resources came to the table and started proactively communicating, while being committed to finding a solution to a more efficient process,” Huff said. “This in turn has helped reduce overtime and has increased employee morale within our organization.”

The hiring growth over the last fiscal year was made possible through an enterprise wide effort. Thanks to current Pantexans and Y-12ers, the workforce of the future continues to be built day by day.

“We’re very proud of efforts made over the last year. From Occupational Health personnel fulfilling pre employment physicals at a record pace, to our hiring managers conducting highly efficient interview processes, we have grown our greatest asset: our people,” Moran said. “The mission is essential. We don’t have the luxury to not fulfill these needs, and everyone stepped up to the challenge.”

A November class of Y-12 new hires
A November class of Y-12 new hires

Posted: Wednesday, December 8, 2021 - 11:57am

Kami Bush, IT Systems administrator, stands among servers in Y-12’s data center
Kami Bush, IT Systems administrator, stands among servers in Y-12’s data center.

If you think of our systems, applications, or network as living and breathing beings, the data center is the brain that essentially regulates every function. As a centralized facility tasked with housing and maintaining multiple server racks that store, process, and backup our electronic information, our data centers are vital to daily operations at Pantex and Y-12.

The Pantex and Y-12 Data Center Consolidation and Modernization projects are progressively coming to fruition, enhancing the monitoring, power reliability, and cooling infrastructure of our IT systems at both sites. At Y-12, Information Solutions and Services continues to decommission legacy hardware and move it into its new home. Meanwhile, the Power Upgrade Project at the Pantex data center continues to implement additional levels of redundancy and alternate power sources.

“Our teams support more than 650 network devices and 4,000 servers at Pantex and Y-12; thus, having a solid infrastructure at each site that hosts and backs up these systems brings us a step closer to meeting a modern industry standard. This is a major accomplishment,” said Joe Harris, Consolidated Nuclear Security’s chief information officer.

With modernization as a primary focus, once complete, both sites will have fully upgraded to 10 gigabytes worth of internet capacity due to the centers’ bandwidth. As a significant boost to our sites’ internet capacity, this will improve our virtual video and audio quality, while decreasing the time to connect to the internet or perform enterprise backups between the sites.

“Teams from across IS&S, Cybersecurity, Construction, and Power Operations have all contributed to the centers’ current and future success for our mission,” said Harris. “This is a triple play with power enhancements, modernization of our cooling of equipment, and increased capacity and resilience in our network connections. We look forward to how this advancement in our infrastructure will continue to grow to serve our people and technology.”

Inside of each data center are multiple racks of servers that store information. As you can imagine, stacks of electrical equipment can overheat if not managed carefully; therefore, in preventing any deficiencies, both centers will have a cool air containment design from the floor of each server room. Currently installed at Y-12, the design separates the cold airflow from the exhaust of the hot and active electrical equipment and ultimately creates a consistent stream of cold airflow throughout the centers that prevents equipment from overheating and shutting down.

“IT equipment creates a lot of heat, which has to be cooled to maintain the equipment’s required temperatures,” said Matt Beattie, who manages both Pantex’s and Y-12’s data centers. “By using an air containment design, we’re able to evenly manage the centers’ temperatures, protect our equipment from overheating, and install more IT equipment in each server rack to make efficient use of our space.”

Adding to the efficiency of the project, the data centers will also be accompanied by a Data Center Infrastructure Management tool, or DCIM. The tool will provide IS&S with a 3-D view of each data center and enable operators to monitor and manage the centers’ equipment, systems, space, power, cooling, and even alert systems administrators of any operational problems after hours.

“From breaking ground to now, both data centers have been nothing short of a collective effort, but we’re not finished yet,” Harris said. “We still have more to do as we continue to move capabilities while maintaining services so as not to impact the site mission and site deliverables.”

Posted: Wednesday, November 24, 2021 - 9:51am

Advanced Lithium Cell Project team
Advanced Lithium Cell Project Team standing next to the prototype after it was successfully operated.

For nearly three years, Y-12 Development has been working to design, install, and operate an advanced lithium electrolytic cell (LEC) to produce lithium metal. Recently, the prototype unit was the first ever advanced lithium cell to make lithium metal that mitigates corrosive gas, high temperature, and lithium metal fire concerns.

The advanced LEC is one of the most sophisticated lithium cells in the industry and significantly improves safety for personnel performing the production, as it produces metal in an enclosed cell. It also provides higher efficiency and minimizes chloride corrosion of the manufacturing facility.

“This lithium cell demonstrates the feasibility of allowing workers to produce lithium metal at a significantly higher efficiency for the Y-12 mission,” explained Jesse Bush, Y-12 Development Lithium Processing section manager. “The increase in safety during production also permits operation in work clothes under normal factory conditions instead of an open, molten salt bath requiring operators to skim metal by hand in a steam suit.”

While the first run on the new LEC was a success, the process was not without setbacks. At the beginning of the project, the team ran into trouble brainstorming ways to interface new technologies with the existing electrolytic cell design, which has been the workhorse in the industry and at Y-12 in spite of numerous other modification attempts over the last 50 years. So, instead of trying to build on the current outdated technology, a completely different design was developed that incorporated new thinking and a new approach. Switching paths to a new design resulted in a quick procurement of materials and fabrication of the cell, as it consists of modular components that are, for the most part, commercial and off the shelf.

“I’d watched other projects at Y-12 struggle with vendor fabrication and deliverables. After a few months of discussions with other Y-12 staff, I decided that we could still execute high quality and meaningful research and development without the need for outside fabrication support,” explained John Freiderich of Y-12 Development’s Lithium Processing group. “We sketched a few ideas and then contacted several vendors for their stock items. After receiving these standard items, and with the help of our on site fabrication capabilities, we built the cell quickly and for quite a bit less money than it would have been otherwise. Each component of the advanced cell is ordinary, but the way they are assembled is anything but.”

On its initial run, the advanced LEC was successful in producing a lithium metal button.

Posted: Wednesday, November 24, 2021 - 9:39am

Y‑12 engineers Brad Langley (right) and Josh Metcalf
Y‑12 engineers Brad Langley (right) and Josh Metcalf worked on a continuous‑improvement enterprise to standardize glovebox equipment.

In the classic Wendy’s commercial, a fast‑food worker uttered the iconic line, “Parts is parts,” meaning any part of the chicken is just as good as the other, when it comes to making a chicken patty.

Brad Langley and the Specialty Mechanical Engineering group hope this line will soon somewhat apply – in a much more positive way - to parts of a glovebox.

He and his team’s continuous-improvement project creates standardized equipment for glovebox designs.

“Our goal is to provide at least four continuous improvement ideas a year,” Langley said. “This is something that’s been in the works. It’s been several years in the making.”

The glovebox has been around for years, in fact since the 1940s. The containment unit has at least one window and two ports, which allow workers (wearing arm‑length gloves) to handle hazardous and sensitive material in a controlled environment.

“The bigger ones can be 80‑feet long,” Langley said. “Some are 20‑feet long. It just depends on the process going on inside. An 80‑foot glovebox can be used for connecting several processes. It could have hammers, chisels, furnaces, lathes, mills. It’s like a little factory.”

Gloveboxes can be different sizes and perform a variety of processes; the shell (the box) and the stand are basically design constants. “They can be stretched or tweaked as needed,” Langley said. “You just have to adjust them according to the process inside.”

However, the support equipment can be more variable when building a glovebox. Langley and his team have developed 120 standards for this equipment, which include filter housing, lights, door, windows, criticality drains, and much more.

“We have completed design of all the standards,” Langley said, “and are starting to use them on different projects.” The standards were created on the Direct Chip Melt Bottom-Loading Furnace Glovebox project. They are set to be used on the GB02 Hood/Airlock replacement project and at Y‑12’s Lithium Processing Facility.

The purpose of equipment standardization is to reduce equipment costs and lead times, which are the periods between the start and completion of a process. With each project possibly requiring a different glovebox, expense can add up.

“A lot of things we put on it [the glovebox] should be the same,” Langley explained. “Different vendors would tweak it [the glovebox]. We thought why not just make a standard design for the vendors, so we don’t have to pay them to design it [the part]. This could save us 2,000 hours of engineering time from the vendors. And it saves us time, too. When the vendors create a design, we usually have to review it each time. We won’t have to review the standards anymore.”

Standardization will also reduce training and maintenance costs. Langley likens them to a mechanic working on a car.

“It’s like changing alternators in 40 different cars,” he said. “Now you would only have to change one kind of alternator.”

For now, standards have been completed for inert gloveboxes, which are filled with an inert gas, such as nitrogen, argon, or helium. Standards for air gloveboxes, which are used for semi‑sterile culture work, will be developed and updated as needed.

In addition, Langley hopes the standardization will be implemented beyond Y‑12 and used across the Nuclear Security Enterprise.

Standards will be reviewed annually to incorporate lessons learned and be updated as needed.