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.”