With a lifelong passion for problem-solving and a love of production, Becky Butlin has helped lead the NIF Target Fabrication Team through obstacles and challenges for the past six years. Producing the wide variety of targets needed the meet the constantly increasing demands of NIF experiments is fun and exciting work, Butlin says.
A member of the team for eight years, Butlin says working to improve production, the dedicated people she works with, and an effective team environment are what she enjoys most about her job. “There are always new challenges to solve,” she adds, including the recent convergence of the teams responsible for producing both warm and super-cooled, or cryogenic, targets as NIF pursues a variety of efficiencies to increase its year-to-year shot rate.
Growing up in Danville, California, Butlin and her younger sister focused their attention on sports, musicals and church youth groups. She took a liking to softball and soccer, but that changed in the sixth grade when she first realized she was attracted to science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM.
“I had a great math teacher at the time,” she says, “and he gave the class a challenge problem each week that we could solve for extra credit. I was the nerd who looked forward to the problem every week and would work on it before starting any other homework assignment. Solving challenging problems excited me, and I have loved them ever since.”
Creativity and Problem-Solving
Butlin attributes her early influences to both her mom and her dad: her mother’s artistic creativity and her father’s love for designing, building, and problem-solving. Her dad ran his own engineering business out of the garage and she was her father’s helper, building things and playing alongside his workbench. And with her bedroom directly over the garage, she found herself falling asleep to the rhythmic sounds of a mechanical robot that ran 24 hours a day producing computer components. “I think I was destined to be an engineer,” she says.
Recruited by LLNL in the summer of 2001, Butlin completed her internship at the Lab and although she didn’t return the following summer (to diversify her intern experiences), it wasn’t long after she completed her undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo that LLNL again reached out to her. She later received her master’s degree in mechanical engineering from UC Davis through the Laboratory’s Education Assistance Program.
In her first full-time job after college, Butlin soon was immersed in the production of line replaceable units (LRUs), which are large mechanical optics assemblies within NIF. “Initially I worked on the mechanical design of these assemblies,” she says, “but once the design was near finalized I was given the role of overseeing the LRU assembly line. This is where I first discovered my love for production.”
When she joined then-target production manager Beth Dzenitis and the Target Fabrication Team in 2009, her eye was set on creating a production environment in her new home. While target production was slowly ramping up, Butlin concerned herself with training, new requirements, changing design elements, and establishing procedures for processes to support the rapid increase in demand for targets.
As the team now fabricates roughly 40 warm and cryogenic targets a month—many of them unique to meet the needs of a wide variety of experiments—Butlin is focused on the recent convergence of the warm and cryogenic target production teams, a change that was discussed for several years but only recently implemented. Merging the two groups requires developing the tooling and processes and updating the work stations to support the processes, while at the same time continually improving those processes. “The consolidation will add a lot of efficiency and continuity to the team,” Butlin says. “It has been a good move.”
When asked about the recent upsurge in the NIF shot schedule to more than 400 shots a year, Butlin says an increase in production always brings challenges to the target fabrication floor and is cause for excitement. She continually looks at equipment resources, existing processes, and how she and the team can respond to meet the new demands.
Butlin acknowledges that overseeing the production of most of the targets shot on NIF is no easy task. When asked about the challenges she faces, she says, “Too much to do and not enough time.” She attributes the Target Fabrication Team’s success to the commitment of its members: “The team really comes together to work through challenges and stays composed and driven, with the number of challenges that come up. Target Fab is never boring.”
Where does she see the team going? “I see the team as being stable, growing together, overcoming challenges, and coming together to succeed. It’s going to be a fun year.”
When not on the production floor and problem-solving, Butlin enjoys time with her family and fulfilling her creative spark with scrapbooking, planning her children’s parties, and serving in a children’s ministry she started at her children’s elementary school.