Wednesday, April 25, 2012

ECBC Engineering Modifies Homemade Explosives Kit Detector for Fall 2012 Operational Assessment

In less than two months, the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center's Innovative Development Engineering Acquisitions (IDEA) Team and the Advanced Design and Manufacturing Division’s (ADM) Engineering Design and Manufacturing Team were able to create a new model of a homemade explosives kit detector, now known as the Colorimetric Reconnaissance Explosive Squad Screening (CRESS) detector. The new detector will be ready to be issued to an operational unit to conduct an operational assessment in fall 2012. The first prototypes will be used by the Fort Benning Infantry School in Georgia. ADM coordinated a low-rate production line to begin the creation of these prototypes.

“We’re in the process of fabricating 4,000 units to be sent to the Warfighter late fall,” said Jim Genovese, IDEA Branch Chief. “This type of technology is useful right now, so we need to get it out fast.”
The CRESS Kit development, formerly known as the Squad Homemade Explosives Kit, was initially funded by the Army Technology Objective R.FP.2010.01 “Detection of Unknown Bulk Explosives.” It is a pocket-sized detector that uses colorimetric technology to detect unsophisticated, homemade substances such as ammonium nitrate, commonly used in improvised explosives overseas.
The CRESS has two plastic halves that fold together and click into place. One side of the half is a sticky paper that is used for collecting the unknown substance, and the other side contains ampoules filled with the colorimetric substance. The two halves are folded together and reagent ampoules crushed. After about 30 seconds, the colorimetric technology will identify the substance, whether or not it is part of a harmful mixture.
After the first Military User Assessment (MUA) in June 2011, the IDEA and Engineering Design and Manufacturing teams implemented several slight modifications to CRESS in order to improve efficiencies and usability. One of the changes included creating a new way to activate the ampoules. In the previous method, color results often varied due to inconsistencies in the ampoules successful activation. The new model includes an easy to- use cover that effectively breaks each of the ampoules, ensuring the quality and consistency of results.
This new model presented at the February 2012 MUA at Fort Leonard Wood, MO performed well and the Warfighters performing the assessment could easily use the detector. The success of the MUA spurred requests for prototypes by the summer.
In addition to adjusting how ampoules are activated, the new detector model improves the device’s usability and intuitive design. Additionally, the teams are working to implement edits to the device’s user manual. Rather than reading dense lines of directions in fine print, easy-to-follow pictorial directions will be used that can be absorbed by the end-user within minutes.
“The old directions were 20 lines long and in small print,” Genovese said. “When a Warfighter is in an emergency and needs to learn how to use something, there may not always be time to stand and read through every little thing. These new picture directions will enable the Warfighter to easily glance down at the manual, learn how to use the device and  proceed with testing the substance. Results need to happen quick and fast in theater, so we want to make it as easy as possible.”
To ease the use of the product, Genovese teamed up with ECBC Engineering’s Pyrotechnics and Explosives Branch to work on a trainer kit that will complement the CRESS. The kit allows Warfighters to practice using the detector with commonly found chemicals in theater.
The training kit will include transportable forms of the chemicals that are easy to store. “The Warfighter can practice using the CRESS on a training kit, before he actually needs it. Thanks to Pyrotechnics and Explosives Branch Chief Joe Domanico and the folks in his branch, we were able to give the Warfighter forms of actual chemicals to practice with, without the level of hazard,” Genovese said.
With a Technology Readiness Level that increased from six to nearly eight in less than two months, Genovese attributes the forward momentum and success of the CRESS project to a solid team effort across ECBC. Additionally, Genovese noted that the support from the project’s sponsor, Dr. Way Fountain, Acting Director of the ECBC Research and Technology Directorate, and a good relationship with the Army Training and Doctrine Command Maneuver Support Center for Excellence have also attributed to the recent strides in the device’s development.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

ECBC Expertise Keeps RFAST Program Up and Running in Afghanistan

While winter barely hit Maryland this year, Colin Graham wakes up to ten inches of snow when he starts his workday. Graham carefully walks through the unsalted snow trenches he and his colleagues made to get to his work destination each morning. The morning trek through the snow is just one minute part of the time Graham is serving under the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command’s Field Assistance in Science and Technology (RFAST) program at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan.

Graham is an engineer in ECBC's Advanced Design and Manufacturing Division (ADM) and has been in Afghanistan since mid-November, when he replaced fellow-ADM employee Kevin Washok from his tour in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

ECBC Engineering Protective Equipment Test Branch Expands Test Capabilites to Better Equip the Warfighter

The Protective Equipment Test (PET) Branch recently took a large step toward increasing the safety and reliability of Warfighter equipment with its extensive laboratory renovations. PET’s newly recertified labs, which have been under renovations for nearly a year, will soon be up and running allowing the team to expand their capability service offerings for the Warfighter.

“These new testing systems will allow us to run multiple tests a day, which heightens our accuracy in testing,” said Jonathan Grzeika, a chemical engineer for the Carbon Team in the PET Branch. “The new hoods allow us to test more types of chemical agents, than we were able to before.”

The PET branch works to “protect the nation’s protectors” with a primary mission to conduct first article, production lot acceptance and surveillance testing on military, unique and civilian, individual and collective protective equipment. Grzeika said the new testing labs will enhance all aspects of the types of testing the PET Branch conducts: carbon testing, end item testing of filters, Aerosol Vapor Liquid Assessment Group (AVLAG) permeation test system, and better SiMulant Agent Resistant Test MaNikin (SMARTMAN) agent testing.

The upgrades to the labs and new equipment will increase the data quality, environmental control and capacity of PET’s loose sorbent, canisters/cartridges and filter testing capabilities by four times the previous amount. The Quality Assurance capabilities will be enhanced allowing the branch to comb through a data set to determine anomalies in testing.

The goal for these renovations is to make the PET Branch a “one-stop shop” for production lot testing needs. With more hood space and increased testing capabilities, PET is able to become that one stop. Additional lab space will allow for there to be backup test systems in the event of maintenance work.

“When one hood is down for maintenance, there will be other usable hoods available,” Grzeika said. “The labs will have a sorbent bed testing system with new analytical and environmental monitoring and controls, as well as a new filter system that can test four times as many filters as the previous system with new analytical instrumentation and environmental control and monitoring.”

These new testing capabilities come at an especially pertinent time. During renovations, PET sacrificed space in order to make room for its new laboratories. Since the upgrades began in Spring 2010, PET created improvised testing spaces and collaborated with teams in ECBC’s Research and Technology Directorate (R&T) to ensure the branch could continue to meet their customers’ requirements and carry on with testing during the upgrades. While space was a luxury during this time, working with the R&T Directorate gave PET a sneak preview of the new technology they would receive following the renovations.

During the downtime, PET transitioned several technological improvements and methods to the R&T Directorate’s cutting-edge sorbent testing labs. Dr. Stan Ostazeski from R&T’s Forensic Analytical Center also contributed hoods to help PET continue with testing during the move. Grzeika said while he is glad PET did not lose momentum during the renovations and had good cause to form partnerships within R&T, he is excited to get to the new labs and utilize the optimized testing to produce major results for the Warfighter.

“The experience of improvising our work space really helped us become better testers. It was nice to develop our creativity - altering our test samples to take up half of the real hood space it typically requires,” Grzeika said. “But at the same time, the idea of getting into these new labs and starting off with a fresh slate to do even more precise testing is exciting.”

Thursday, April 5, 2012

ECBC Industrial Base Office and AMC Industrial Base Capabilities Division Form Strategic Partnership

Large-scale emergencies, whether natural disasters or man-made accidents, have the potential to interfere with the sustainment of the Army Industrial Base Program. However, thanks to a recent partnership between the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) Industrial Base Office (IBO) and the Army Materiel Command’s Industrial Base Capabilities Division (AMC IBCD) Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), the Army IB Program will remain functional despite the occurrence of unforeseen disasters. As a part of this new partnership, ECBC IBO - located at Rock Island Arsenal - now serves as a second line to AMC, providing mission-critical functions in the event of an emergency that downgrades AMC IBCD ability to provide program sustainment.

“The selection of ECBC IBO was not only a great tribute to the hard work of our staff but also a reflection of our customer’s appreciation and trust for the excellent services provided,” said Eric Hoover ECBC IB team leader.