Dean Hansen of the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center's Engineering Packaging Branch, is thinking outside of the box – literally. After three years in the making, Hansen has successfully patented a revolutionary, reusable military packing box that will allow for increased durability, longevity and customization to remain concurrent with item design.
“If I wasn’t looking for a cheaper way of doing things, this idea could have gone right by me,” Hansen said. “Some of the success of this invention has come by way of accident, but mostly because our team was searching for a more cost-effective packing solution.”
Almost three years ago, Hansen was asked to attend a packaging system test at the Aberdeen Test Center. The system being tested was an antiquated technology made up of fiber board, and Hansen believed he could create a cheaper, more resistant packaging technology. He returned to his office, and within a week, designed the aerial deliver box to meet this new requirement.
After experimenting with a variety of box materials, Hansen had what some innovators would call a “light bulb moment.” Two commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) items were the key to this new way of military packing – Polystyrene and truck bed liner.
Since the U.S. Revolutionary War, most military packing boxes have been wooden. Hansen’s innovative box is made out of polystyrene – known to the “layman” as Styrofoam – and sprayed with a polyurethane coating, commonly used as a truck bed liner. The design is not only cheaper than the traditional wooden carriers – it can sustain greater impact and a wider array of environmental conditions.
Originally, Hansen’s bright idea was birthed when he discovered Polystyrene coolers, similar to the disposable ones found in grocery stores, were the basis for shipping bio assays to Warfighters in the Middle East. The packages had less-than-adequate insulation and crushed under a normal pressure load. In order to improve the container’s design, Hansen suggested spraying the box with resilient polyurethane – truck bed liner.
“Our team dove tailed the box’s joints to allow for hot and cold temperature transfer after spraying the Polystyrene container with the truck bed liner,” Hansen said. “Then we subjected it to several rounds of testing – compression testing, manual handling, loose cargo, dropping it from set heights and environmental testing.”
Military packaging is designed to offer protection to items in any environment in the world. Many times there are no available warehouse facilities, and the packaging must provide protection from the environment without any additional storage protection. Unlike commercial distribution chains, items in the military distribution chain are exposed to multiple handlings and modes of transport and can be exposed to shock, vibration, high humidity, rain, snow and temperatures that are not seen by commercial products. Each contract must consider the final destination of the item and contain the requisite packaging requirements.
By using COTS items like polystyrene and truck bed liner, the Packaging Branch has been able to meet urgent need requests for the new boxes, providing direct packaging assistance to the Warfighter within as little as six weeks.
“These new boxes are two-thirds the cost of the wooden boxes and one-third the weight of them,” Hansen said. “The polyurethane truck bed liner is not only readily accessible at a moment’s need, it is incredibly tough, lightweight and environmentally friendly.”
The new containers exceed requirements for current military packaging testing, resisting any deflation at 35,000 lbs. of compressed load strength.
Designed to sustain a toss out of a helicopter moving at 110 knots air speed, 100 feet in the air, the boxes can make a jolting landing on land or sea with contents unscathed. Not only are the boxes water and vapor proof, they also float.
“If you were to parachute a box into a drop zone, it would be expensive. You would have to have a large drop zone area to account for wind variations. By the time the box lands, adversaries will have tracked its drop point. With these new boxes, you can get in, drop the item and be gone before the enemy knows what’s happened,” Hansen said.
Hansen’s patent comes to fruition at a bittersweet time for him. At the end of 2011, he will be retiring, closing out his career at Edgewood Chemical Biological Center as a certified military packaging specialist. He notes that while he will miss the work, the last three years have been a fulfilling journey.
“The first shipment of the containers went out in early August, and the technology has just begun to convert to the commercial sector,” Hansen said. “Before I retire, I would love to see the entire system of Department of Defense wooden boxes replaced with this new technology.”