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.