Training and Simulation

Scaling The Simulation Value Chain

John Schlott

Vice President of Operations, MAK Technologies

From system engineer to VP of Operations, John Schlott’s 30 years of experience gives MAK Technologies a strategic advantage in the Modelling and Simulation industry.

He oversees the MAK’s programs execution and business activities in its newest Orlando facility. John has been in the simulation and training industry since 1992 working as a system engineer, technical director, program director and business development director, with customers ranging from all branches of the US military as well as international customers in North America, Europe and Asia.

We’ve invited him to share his modelling and simulation industry insights and outline what’s next for MAK Technologies in the new norm.

Q: Congratulations for snagging the “People’s Choice Award” in ITEC’s Disruptive Technology (DisTec) Challenge for MAK Legion! What are the factors that contribute to the win?

A: Winning the “People’s Choice Award” at ITEC’s DisTec Challenge is a great honor – we’re so proud that everyone who voted views MAK Legion, our next-gen scalability and communications framework, as a disruptive technology!

This is really a team award for MAK, where all those who worked on Legion, from requirements to implementation, should take pride. Legion’s communications and data storage framework opens the door for synthetic environments to accurately simulate training in urban environments and large-scale exercises.

We are looking forward to work with the simulation and training community to make Legion a recognised standard.

Q: With your 30 years in the modelling and simulation industry, any key takeaways that you can share?

Much of my time is spent on the immediate: delivery on contract, proposal completion by the due date, and often, just being on time for the next meeting. When looking back on my career, I have seen the application of a lot of different technology – from graphics processing, to standards, to miniaturisation to changes in training concepts. It would be easy to say that the one constant is change. But when I think about it, the one thing that jumps out to me is this: few problems are solved by a singular point solution within the training continuum.

For example, when I started in virtual simulation, we were always worried about transport delay because it could induce simulator sickness. Transport delay was a pipeline beginning with the user input and the transfer of that to data from controls to processing to image generation commands to projection to the viewer. Every step contributed to the delay and to meet requirements, each step was optimised to work with the other.

Today, we face the same pipeline problem creating synthetic environments that support millions of entities. To reach those numbers you need a communication framework like Legion – but that is not enough alone. Simulation engines need to be optimised to increase the number of entities each one generates. Rendering engines need to be optimised to be able to render all the relevant entities.

Computing deployment architectures need to take advantage of things like the cloud to manage multiple copies of simulation engines to achieve scale into the millions.  If the engines are not improved, we are left to apply hardware to the problem, which would drive cost to a point of unaffordability.

Like good engineering teams that work together, I think this is a lasting principle in modelling and simulation: most problems are system problems that need a system answer.

Q: Modelling and simulation industry is gaining traction especially in the new norm. How has MAK adapted to the norm?

After 30 years in the modeling and simulation industry, we have made a name for ourselves as a trusted supplier of COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) simulation technology. Our open, modular systems architecture empowers our customers to choose which parts of the MAK ONE product line-up best fit their solution, in harmony with the other technology elements in their design. 

MAK is still taking the same trusted, problem-solving approach and mapping into our new business model for the development and delivery of training solutions. We will begin the solution development by understanding the customer and the challenges faced in training and the operational environment. Through customer intimacy, we will use the same customer-focused approach to suggest training solutions that meet the unique need. MAK ONE will be tailored specifically to the needs of that individual customer. There will be no one size fits all solution but a unique solution for each customer’s unique training challenge.

Q: How does this differ from the current approach?

Typically we work with system integrators or end-users to customise our MAK ONE software components or platform – building, linking, visualising 3D simulated environments for their modelling, simulation, training and experimentation needs.

We are now taking a step forward to serve another niche in the market where we can deliver specific training solution capabilities to end-users and partner with those customers to address unique challenges directly. This applies to new end user customers and our traditional product customers. As the developer of our COTS software products, we believe we are in the unique position to tailor those products to a specific need of the customer.

From system design, integration, and testing to our in-house subject matter experts, we are a valuable and trusted partner on training system development projects, whether it involves adapting MAK technology, Government Off the Shelf (GOTS) products, competitor technology, or homegrown customer technology. The key to success remains the MAK culture that develops trust between the customer and the MAK team.

Q: With the new business model in the pipeline, how do you foresee the future of the modelling and simulation industry?

A: Industry objectives will likely remain the same in the military training and simulation market. All militaries face the similar problem of turnover. This creates a cycle where new recruits require individual training to support small unit and then large unit training.

What we are trying to achieve remains constant – highly trained individuals and units to meet a nation’s security needs. Our industry needs to continue to make solutions more reliable, easier to operate, and more available at the point of need. Where possible, planning, evaluation and feedback should be automated to reduce the resources needed to train. Providing training readiness information from the massive amount of data generated in a simulation must be an extending capability of any solutions.

Training simulations will continue to merge with planning capabilities to evaluate courses of action and assist planners in operation development. This is so that we can run future operations in the training environment and make changes that will save lives in combat.

Q: What grabbed your interest to jump start your career in modelling and simulation field?

The first time I experienced training in a simulator was October 1984. I was a tank company commander in the US Army and my tank commanders and gunners traveled to the GE Aerospace plant in Daytona Beach, Florida to shoot a prototype M1 Conduct of Fire Trainer (COFT). Over a three-week period, my unit conducted over 200 hours of training on the COFT.

I observed my crews getting better at the mechanics of tank gunnery. From shortening the time to identify targets to increase in first round hits, the training effectiveness was obvious. Further supporting my observations was more objective data of times, hits and performance measures than I ever had from live training. This first introduction made me a true believer in the power of simulation-based training.

My next encounter on simulation-based training was at US Army Armor School, Fort Knox, where I led the team that incorporated the COFT into Armor Officer Basic Course and SIMNET, the precursor of the Close Combat Tactical Trainer, into the Armor Officer Advance Course.

This spurred me to take on a Master’s degree from the University of Louisville in Occupational Education and Training with a focus on simulation-based training.

My career in modeling and simulation did not start with my retirement from the US Army. It began long before that when I first experienced simulation-based training on the COFT. When retirement came, modeling and simulation seemed like the only and right place to go.

Q: How do you get your 30 years of drive in the modelling and simulation industry? Any recommended books or websites?

It is difficult to pinpoint the source of my drive over 30 years in modelling and simulation. The one thing that does come to mind is something my structures professor instilled in me during my third year at an engineering school while pursuing my undergraduate degree.

Doctor Lobo always said, “to remain a good engineer you must remain curious.” I recognise that my technical skills are not where they were when I was immersed in engineering, but I have taken Dr. Lobo’s words to heart throughout my career. Being curious and wanting to learn has served me well as an Army officer, engineer, program manager and business development leader. I believe that attitude will always help me to be the best I can be.

I am fortunate to see it almost every day when I am with my grandsons. They are curious about everything and that attitude feeds my curiosity. When that curiosity leads to the unknown, I have often attempted to gain an academic understanding. Depending on the subject, I’ve found several good starting points: the Shipley Business Development Lifecycle outlines the capture process end to end, the Program Management Institute addresses a multitude of challenges faced in program execution, and Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard P. Pumelt, clearly outlines the principles of business strategy development. Each of these resources provide principles related to their respective subject areas, but alone they are not sufficient. The key to resolving challenges is to tailor those principles for the specific environment, time, and conditions to provide a solution. Execution of the process is only useful when the output advances the company toward common goals. Successful practice in the business place leads to future curiosity.

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