Monday, July 11, 2011

ECBC's Protective Equipment Test Branch Collaborates to Enhance Branch Capabilities

ECBC’s Protective Equipment Test Branch (PET) knows firsthand that when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.

Since Spring of 2010, the team has experienced a temporary downtime as needed upgrades to their existing test labs are made. Included in the upgrades are enhancements to the labs’ air handlers and exhaust fans, added redundancies in the labs to improve safety and augmented temperature control.

Heeding to the old adage that "it will get worse before it gets better," PET Branch personnel anticipated the potential interruption and took action. Prior to construction on the labs, branch personnel worked tirelessly to coordinate the shift of the branch’s test capabilities to other areas within PET as well as to ECBC’s Research and Technology Directorate (R&T). This shift required additional cooperation and support from Safety and Environmental personnel of the ECBC Directorate of Program Integration and personnel of TACOM Rock Island to ensure that Standing Operating Procedures and waste management Laboratory Certifications were appropriately transitioned.

The shutdown of the three main testing laboratories of the PET occurred on February 21, 2011, and instead of this being detrimental to the ability of the PET to meet its customer needs, it has been a true success story. A prime example of this is the continuation of permeation production lot acceptance testing, which would have been at a standstill without the support of Dr. Stan Ostazeski of R&T’s Forensic Analytical Center and his team.

"It’s a great example of the directorates helping one another so that work can go on," PET Branch Chief Mary McNally said.

PET Senior Chemical Engineer Mark Ciampaglio saw this as an opportunity to expand the PET’s current sorbent testing capabilities and to shift resources, and now the branch is moving on it.

The team’s work with the Center’s R&T Directorate has allowed them to improve their test reliability and control of key parameters and to implement a real-time data acquisition system. Working with Dr. Rick Cox and other personnel from R&T’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) Filtration Team, PET was able to successfully transition several technological improvements and methods from the R&T team’s cutting edge sorbent testing labs in order to ensure top quality data and service to their customers.

The upgrade also improves PET’s Quality Assurance capabilities, allowing the branch to comb through a data set to determine any anomalies in a test. With improved control of test parameters and lower variance in test data, PET has seen notable decreases in test deviation.
"For a supposed ‘downtime,’ we’ve been very busy," Ciampaglio said.

In addition to the cross-directorate collaboration to improve PET’s test systems during the branch’s seeming downtime, the branch has also been working with the CBRN Filtration team for production lot testing in order to meet an emerging area of need in chemical testing – toxic industrial chemicals (TIC).

"PET aims to be a ‘one-stop shop’ for production lot testing. In order to be that, we are working to expand our hood space so that we can dedicate space to this additional type of testing that is appearing more frequently in potential customers’ program requirements and requests for test services," Ciampaglio said. "We’re trying to predict future requirements so we are ready to help."

Currently, PET works with the CBRN Filtration team to offer the TICs testing. As the branch is able to absorb the testing at their facility, it will allow the Filtration team to refine their specific capability focus.

"As we move to become a ‘one-stop shop’ that offers TICs testing, we are not taking away from the R&T function. They’ve had to take on some production lot testing in order for us to meet customer needs. Moving ahead, they will be able to focus on their primary mission," McNally said.

Aside from the collaborative work PET has done with R&T to reshuffle the branch’s capabilities, the reconstruction of their labs will increase PET’s existing test capabilities four-fold. Specifically, the branch’s loose carbon testing and canister filter testing capacities will quadruple.

"We will have more fume hoods than we’ve ever had in recent past, so this is an opportunity for us to increase our capability dramatically," Ciampaglio said.

Expansion and modernization are the buzz words at PET’s Edgewood facility. Applying the same tenacity for improvement to the branch’s permeation and mask testing capabilities, PET Engineering Technician John Knopp noted that the branch is working some of the same magic to modernize the branch’s permeation and mask testing areas.

"This has been an opportune time to clean house and restructure our capabilities to flow better, consolidate our operations and enhance our data capture systems across our capabilities to provide real time information," Knopp said.

Looking ahead, PET expects for planned expansions to be well underway in the first quarter of FY2012.

"This has been a great example of how well the Center works together, extending an arm and helping one another shine," McNally said. "This is how we are fortunate at ECBC."

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